Assistant District Attorney Hans Moore volleyed a rapid-fire line of questions at Dacari Spiers, the victim of a police beating: Did the officers announce who they were? Why were they there? Did they identify themselves as police officers?
“No, no, no,” Spiers testified today in the trial of San Francisco Police Department Officer Terrance Stangel, who has been charged with four felony counts in the 2019 beating of Spiers. It was the first time Spiers took the stand, and the questioning and cross-examination Wednesday went on for some five hours. It is expected to resume on Thursday.
“I was being grabbed,” Spiers said decisively. “So I tried to figure out who was grabbing me … I remember thinking they were gonna kill me.”
In Spiers’ first day of testimony, the questions broke down, in detail, the night three years ago when Officer Stangel beat him multiple times with a baton and left him with broken bones in his wrist and leg.
The trial is thought to be the first criminal trial against an on-duty San Francisco police officer regarding an on-the-job beating. And, in line with how the trial has played out to this point, the prosecution and defense painted vastly different pictures of what transpired on the night Spiers was beaten, an event that was captured on the officers’ body-worn cameras.
On Oct. 6, 2019, San Francisco police officers responded to a domestic violence 911 call from a woman alleging a man was choking and dragging a woman near Fisherman’s Wharf. After police officers Stangel and Cuauhtémoc Martínez located Spiers and his girlfriend, Breonna Richard, as the subjects of the call, they quickly approached Spiers.
Within 10 seconds, Stangel drew his baton and beat Spiers’ legs and wrist eight times, as shown on his body-worn camera footage.
On Tuesday, Spiers’ on-and-off girlfriend of more than a decade, Breonna Richard, vehemently denied domestic abuse allegations.
Spiers today recalled that day as one of wine-tasting with his cousin Kyle and then-girlfriend Richard at Pier 39. Kyle invited them to a music video shoot in a parking garage near the wharf, he said.
At one point, Richard realized her wallet was gone. Spiers said he decided to console Richard as he’d learned to do for 12 years — by making her laugh. He said he wrapped his arms around her from behind, cuddling her as they walked away from Kyle’s car, to buoy her spirits.
“I was hugging her. I don’t know what to call it. A waddle?” Spiers said.
“I’m taller than Breonna … ” DA Moore said, rising and asking Spiers to demonstrate their positions.
“Uh … ” Spiers said, awkwardly wrapping his arms around Moore and shuffling while remaining embraced. They attempted to waddle in a semi-circle in front of the jury.
“It’s okay,” Moore assured him, as the courtroom erupted into laughter. “It’s not the first time.”
Spiers said that they were by Kyle’s car, where Richard was checking for her wallet, when a group of girls walked by. They acted like he “smelled like doo doo” and had their noses up in the air, he testified. He called out “something slick” to them in an attempt to cheer up Richard: “Ain’t nobody hold you like that?” he said that he asked the girls.
The voice on the 911 call reporting the domestic violation was that of a young woman.
During the cross-examination, Stangle’s counsel, Nicole Pifari, suggested a different scenario. Richard, she said, perhaps blamed Spiers for the missing wallet, since Kyle was his kin. Then, she suggested, the two started fighting.
When Pifari asked Spiers if he was fighting with Richard over a missing phone, Spiers appeared confused as to why the attorney was talking about a cell phone. Did Spiers curse at his girlfriend, pick her up by the head, drag her, and tell her “I got you now, bitch. You ain’t going no motherfuckin’ where.”
Spiers denied all of this. During testimony Tuesday, Richard also denied any instance of domestic violence.
Spiers said on the stand today that after his brief “waddle” with Richard, the couple returned to the car. Richard sat on top of it, with Spiers standing between her legs. He had his back turned to the officers when they approached, but he said today that he could see his girlfriend’s face change after she saw something behind him.
“I kissed her on the forehead, but she was clearly somewhere else,” he said. Suddenly, Spiers said, he felt contact on his left shoulder.
Spiers denied threatening the officers verbally or physically, but said he moved his feet to get away from the officers.
“It had been so fast, it was a blink of the eye,” Spiers recalled today in court. “I couldn’t [tell] who it was. I was already being hit with a baton. I felt it in my legs and sides.”
Spiers said he dropped to the ground, thinking that might make the blows end. He raised his hands to his face to protect his head from a potential baton strike, he said. That resulted in a broken left wrist after Stangel struck him.
If Spiers’ hand wasn’t there, would the baton have hit Spiers’ head? Moore asked.
“Yes,” Spiers confirmed.
In the cross-examination, Pifari presented statements that contradicted Spiers’s testimony.
First, the defense again asked Spiers to confirm that he received no prior warning before the police approached, as he testified earlier. Then, she read into the record the original statements Spiers gave to the paramedics, the hospital where he was admitted, as well as those he gave to investigators the following day.
In the video where Spiers speaks to the paramedics, which is caught on an officer body camera, he states he saw “someone who looked Asian” get out of the car. “He immediately arrested me,” Spiers said. He also told the investigators on Oct. 7 that officers told him to “get on the ground” three times. Pifari said his earlier testimony contradicted that statement.
Then the defense rolled footage from Martinez’s body camera, where Martinez says, “Come here,” “hey, relax,” and “face the wall.”
The video shows Spiers saying, “I ain’t facing no wall.” Pifari slowed the frames and suggested that Spiers put a hand on an officer’s chest to resist arrest. Spiers said “he saw” an officer hassling him, and the movement was an attempt to move away.
“If you said, ‘I ain’t facing no wall,’ you probably heard him say ‘face the wall? right?” Pifari asked.
Spiers denied this. When Pifari asked why he would mention the wall without prompting, Spiers said it was because he was being approached and “doing nothing wrong.” He then asked San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa M. Caffese for a break, and sat outside with his head bowed.
The paramedics’ notes also said that Spiers reported to them that he never lost consciousness.
Spiers consistently rebuffed the defense’s questions, saying he could not recall what happened that night because he had blocked it out and because he was beaten, had passed out, and later was on medication.
“If I did say that in the film, it was because I was discombobulated, and in pain,” Spiers said.
The questioning then moved to cover a subsequent night when Spiers was still in the hospital. The defense said Spiers yelled and cursed at a nurse, and had a screaming match with his girlfriend, Richard.
Again Spiers testified that the scenario the defense imagined was inaccurate. The couple never fought each other, Spiers said. Instead, they were shouting at the police officers who showed up at his hospital room. The officers served Spiers with a restraining order against Richards, an event recorded on their body-worn cameras.
During cross-examination, Spiers said the officers never read him a restraining order, and that one officer threatened him, demanding that he not testify or press charges.
The defense played the body camera footage from that night in the hospital: Oct. 10, 2019. In the video, Spiers grows agitated and raises his voice, alleging that the officers are out to get him.
“You gon’ lie to my face? You gon beat my ass? … You’d like to finish it?” Spiers asks the officers at one point.
It is unclear who filed the restraining order but, in the video, Richard can be seen repeatedly telling officers that she did not want to leave Spiers and go with them. She attempted to assist her boyfriend by calling his lawyer and demanding the badge numbers and names of the police officers present.
“This is harassment. Y’all just beat the shit out of my boyfriend and you think I’m leaving with you? You crazy,” Richard said on the video shown today.
At one point, she collapses onto Spiers’s lap, teary-eyed. “It’s alright, it’s alright,” Spiers said to her, his good leg shaking.
“Did you hear the officers threaten you in that video?” Pifari asked on Wednesday.
“Not in words,” Spiers said.
So, did he “lie” earlier that day, Pifari said?
“It’s not a lie,” Spiers said. He can be threatened non-verbally. “It’s how you see the body language, the way they look at you.”
During cross-examination, Pifari also asked why he filed a $700,000 lawsuit against the officers involved, attempting to frame Spiers’ intentions as money-motivated.
Instead, Spiers denied filing one. It wasn’t until Pifari brought him a copy later in the trial that he acknowledged it. “You asked for a settlement?” Pifari said. “It was denied the last time I checked.” (Following a delay, the Board of Supervisors approved the payout on Monday.)
As the prosecution expected, Pifari brought up each of Spiers’ former arrests and convictions, which spanned from 2012 to 2018. Both times he was arrested for domestic violence, but he was not charged in either case. He has at least one felony conviction, for punching three separate men.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Thursday with Spiers on the stand for another round of questioning.