One week after Supervisor Cathrine Stefani convinced her Board of Supervisors colleagues to hold off on a settlement for a Black man beaten by an SFPD officer, the supes today ratified the $700,000 payout.
The settlement was approved by an 8-2 vote, with Stefani and Rafael Mandelman dissenting. Supervisor Matt Haney was absent.
Dacari Spiers was struck eight times with a baton by Officer Terrance Stangel in October, 2019, who was responding to a 911 domestic violence call. Stangel’s trial kicked off this week; it is believed to be the first time a San Francisco police officer has faced charges for an on-the-job beating.
The 2019 beating, recorded on officers’ body-worn cameras, put Spiers, who was unarmed, into the hospital with two broken bones. Both Spiers and his then-girlfriend, Breonna Richard, continue to deny any domestic violence occurred. In spite of the 911 call, other witnesses have also denied that any domestic violence took place that night, and no footage of any violence has been located. Spiers was never charged regarding this incident; then-DA Suzy Loftus dismissed a resisting arrest count brought by police in December, 2019.
This case has erupted into bitter controversy of late, but this much is not in dispute: Police on Oct. 6, 2019, were dispatched to Fisherman’s Wharf based on a 911 call alleging domestic violence, but the police did not witness any domestic violence that night — and, within seconds, officers put their hands on Spiers, and he was soon severely beaten.
There have been subsequent allegations regarding Spiers’ character and criminal history, and the accusations made by the 911 caller that Spiers was strangling his girlfriend. But neither his character nor history were known to the officers who arrived on the scene and, at the moment they arrived, there was no physical violence going on.
“Officers are supposed to use their observational and verbal skills before they start breaking bones,” said Curtis Briggs, one of three attorneys who negotiated the $700,000 settlement with the City Attorney. Briggs earlier told us it would be “stupid” for the city to wait to settle this civil case until after Stangel is potentially found guilty in the criminal trial; Briggs believes a jury might have awarded Spiers up to $3 million in a civil trial, but he pushed for the settlement because his client is indigent and needs the money.
It’s the simple facts of the case that underpinned the City Attorney’s urging to settle: “We recommend the proposed settlement based on the governing law and the incident itself, which was largely captured on body-worn cameras,” the City Attorney’s office told us last week. Tonight, Deputy City Attorney Meredith Osborne reiterated this position.
At tonight’s Board meeting, after emerging from an extended closed session with the City Attorney to discuss the proposed civil settlement, the supervisors took thinly veiled pot-shots at one another. Hillary Ronen said she was “sickened” by the politicization of a police brutality case. Dean Preston did not name Stefani, but did not have to: “We’re sending a message to victims of police brutality that there are some on this board who are willing to be complicit.”
Again without mentioning Stefani, he accused her of being a vessel for propaganda from the police union in its continuing war against District Attorney Chesa Boudin: “I don’t appreciate their misinformation being brought into these chambers.”
Stefani, in an emotional soliloquy, stated that she continued to have “a significant number of material concerns.” She insisted that there is “tons” of evidence that Spiers committed domestic violence and “the domestic violence case that was brushed aside is, to me, the most alarming.”
This was a confusing claim: The only evidence on-record of domestic violence occuring on Oct. 6, 2019, came from a 911 call that has not been corroborated. As for the domestic violence investigation, that’s the domain of the police, not the District Attorney. And, during the Jan. 27 hearing, it was revealed that the SFPD investigator assigned to the domestic violence case against Spiers had no “special training in DV and doing DV investigations,” and was not part of the dedicated domestic violence unit.
The matter of Dacari Spiers and Terrence Stangel has been thrust into a realm of extreme politics and innuendo following a January motion from Stangel’s lawyer to dismiss the criminal case against the officer. District Attorney Investigator Megen Hayashi admitted to failing to share her work with her SFPD counterpart, and testified that she was pressured by her superiors to “suppress” evidence she felt was helpful to Stangel.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa M. Caffese was unimpressed; she found that the evidence in question was both duplicative and irrelevant; Caffese denied the motion to dismiss the criminal case against Stangel.
But, on Feb. 1, Stefani pushed her colleagues to postpone this settlement and, one day later, Police Chief Bill Scott abruptly and unilaterally dumped the Memorandum of Understanding appointing the DA lead investigator in police use-of-force cases.
Boudin today parried the chief, stating that, under the language of the 2019 version of the SFPD-DA agreement, the DA was not required to share information with the police, but the police were required to share information and had failed to do so. Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting would figure to be due for pyrotechnics.
Briggs welcomed tonight’s Board of Supervisors approval of this civil settlement, but said the moment was bittersweet.
“I think it’s a wise use of taxpayer money, but I am also concerned that this settlement doesn’t do anything to reform the police department, which is in dire need of some serious oversight,” he said.
He regretted not being able to “pull out the entire guts of the police department for the public to see at a civil rights trial. That is what I always wanted to do. The reason I agreed to settle is it was in Dacari’s best interest.”
The criminal trial against Stangel resumes on Wednesday. Spiers himself may take the stand.