Terrance Stangel leaves the court room with his attorney after taking the witness stand. He is on trial for beating an unarmed man with a baton in 2019. Photo taken Feb. 23, 2022 by Eleni Balakrishnan.

After weeks of sitting silently in the courtroom, San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel took the witness stand Wednesday, portraying himself as a well-meaning police officer who was trying to protect his partner from a violent Dacari Spiers when he beat Spiers near Fisherman’s Wharf in 2019.

Stangel is the first SFPD officer to face a criminal trial for use-of-force violations while on duty.

He is charged with beating Spiers, an unarmed Black man, with a baton in 2019, and breaking two of Spiers’ bones. Body-worn camera footage shows the officer hitting Spiers with a metal baton eight times in quick succession. On the witness stand, Stangel testified that he “believed every single baton strike at the time was necessary” to protect Officer Cuauhtémoc Martínez, who reached Spiers first.

Guided by his attorney, Nicole Pifari, during three hours of testimony, Stangel described what happened after Stangel and Martínez responded to a 911 call from a bystander reporting a domestic violence incident. Stangel testified that when they arrived, Spiers and his then-girlfriend were not touching and not obviously involved in any violent altercation. 

While recounting the events of Oct. 6, 2019, Stangel described what he said was “obvious” to him: that Spiers was “assaultive,” that Stangel couldn’t get ahold of him, and that Spiers would not surrender. 

Stangel testified that Spiers “exploded” and “blew up,” and said the interaction between Martínez and Spiers quickly turned into a “melee.” 

Stangel told jurors that the incident was different from what the body-worn camera footage shows. He said the first thing he saw when he arrived on the scene was Spiers assaulting Officer Martinez.

“As I tried to grab a hold of [Spiers], he just ripped me off,” Stangel said, jerking his body to demonstrate. 

Unable to hold Spiers, whom Stangel described as resembling “a pissed-off NFL player,” Stangel said he called for backup and pulled out his baton. When the three men separated briefly, Stangel testified that Spiers reinitiated contact with Martínez. 

Stangel said he then began swinging, hitting Spiers at least twice before Spiers and Martínez “flew to the ground” together. Stangel said he believed his partner was losing the fight with Spiers, which, he explained, was why he continued hitting Spiers’ legs with his baton. 

While it is unclear from any camera footage whether Spiers pushed the officers or was being pushed, Stangel’s attorney has repeatedly claimed that Spiers was too big and strong for the officers to control without weapons.

Pifari compared Spiers to a hypothetical suspect with an “athletic build,” and Stangel said that Spiers “seemed like he was taller” than him.

Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Young challenged those claims in her cross-examination, pointing out that Spiers and Stangel are about the same height. She told jurors that Stangel, a former high school and junior college quarterback, was required to meet physical fitness standards as a police officer.

Young questioned Stangel about why he didn’t hear any of the questions that Spiers and his then-girlfriend repeatedly asked, including why officers had approached them. 

“In the moment, you don’t hear a lot of things,” Stangel said. “I don’t know if it’s possible to train that out of you.”

Turning to face the jury near the end of his testimony, he explained, “I just don’t, you don’t hear things like that in real life.”  

After Stangel finished testifying, his friend and former partner, Officer Davon Morgan, took the stand, telling the jury that Stangel does not have “a character trait for violence.” Although he couldn’t speak to the event in question, Morgan said he had seen Stangel in many public interactions where he kept his cool.

SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel, right, leaves the courthouse with his friend and former on-the-job partner, Davon Morgan. They both gave testimony today in Stangel’s criminal trial. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan.

The last witness to take the stand Wednesday was Sean McCann, a professor with the Napa Valley College Administration of Justice and the second use-of-force expert to testify for the defense.

McCann called Stangel’s efforts to grab hold of Spiers first instead of using his baton “admirable,” considering that, in his view, a higher level of force was justifiable.  

McCann said that officers are allowed to consider tone of voice as “pre-assaultive behavior” when deciding to use intermediate levels of force, such as batons and pepper spray.

Officer Patrick Woods, an in-house SFPD use-of-force expert, finished his testimony for the defense on Wednesday morning; he also said that questions like the ones Spiers was asking could be interpreted as resistance if they were conflicting with the police officers’ commands. 

That’s what the SFPD in-house expert said on the stand. But the district’s own Departmental General Order 5.01 governing police use-of-force says otherwise. It states that batons can be used against assaultive subjects who actively resist and prevent officers from taking them into custody: Questions of confusion, like the ones posed by Spiers asking what he did, do not fall into these categories. 

Earlier in the trial, the prosecution’s use-of-force expert, Roger Clark, testified that Stangel’s baton use was not justified.

McCann is scheduled to continue testifying on Thursday. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. Thank you, h. We pushed to get an outside Chief to take over for Suhr, and it apparent that the police union has never accepted the new Chief no matter what he does. We knew that would be a huge problem as the police union thrusts themselves into all city business when they should be confined to narrow limits of work related issues. No other unions have the kind of power these union wield not only in SF but across the country. They have been pushed into a corner by at least one court decision, but they have a lot of money going into their coffers. That’s why indicting Stangel became such a firestorm for the current Chief. The Chief was very cooperative with our working group who was tasked with creating a new anti-bias policy for SFPD. I think he understands that need to embrace the DOJ recommendations for change. Boudin is the real reformer here, and we should all be behind him in every way possible.

    1. Thirsty,

      He’ll walk on a hung jury with 10 for conviction.

      And …

      If this is like most other high profile cop trial he’ll get a promotion and become a training officer if he isn’t already.

      Not a wasted effort tho by any means.

      Sooner or later the BOS will get some smarts and give us a chance to pick Stangel’s next boss.

      Biggest outcome is that the Public got to see a thug cop prosecuted.

      That means alot both to citizens and other thug cops.

      Go Giants!

      h.

  2. Re Stangel: LOCK HIM UP! (Figuratively speaking.) Re Officer Davon Morgan saying he’s seen Stangel in many public interactions where he kept his cool. That’s what he’s supposed to do!!! And obviously didn’t this time The cops stick together no matter what. I commend Chesa Boudin for going after Stangel!

  3. This is why they want to recall Chesa. This is the first time ever an SFPD officer has been charged with assault for beating someone on duty. They think they are above the law.

    Send a message in June that we won’t stand for police brutality.

  4. At best it will be a hung jury. After the recall, there will be no retrial. It’s sad that SF has lost it’s ability to defy the national reactionary conservative trend. Big outside money is the enabler and a growing SF authoritarian demographic is the means. The result reversal of genuine SF police and justice reform.

  5. Campers,

    Keep in mind the only two things that matter here.

    One is American Justice Reform.

    Two is San Francisco Justice Reform.

    San Franciscans elected a sworn justice reformer and got what they sought.

    This guy is not just a reformer, he is the best there is.

    He jumped with both feet into a system he’s been dealing with since before he was able to walk or talk.

    Oh yeah, San Francisco got themselves a star.

    Which is why the Prison Industrial Complex, crooked politicians and sadistic cops hate Chesa Boudin.

    He’s spent his entire life working to curb the evil creep of jail house rape and longer and longer sentences imposed by cowardly politicians bowing to bully cop unions, a sometimes overly vindictive public and corporate interests.

    This case is Chesa’s first serious shot across the bow of those forces.

    Will this trial change all of that?

    Hell no!!!

    This is a fight against the remnants of slave owners and overseers with whips.

    It’s 1,500 years old as far back in English jurisprudence which is as far as i can find records.

    My boy sure enuff has their attention tho.

    Time for the most enlightened City in America to stand up on its hind legs and kick Tucker Carlson’s ass.

    Save Chesa!

    The trial?

    The trial will make every cop in San Francisco think twice before they start pounding.

    That’s a good start.

    Go Giants!

    h.

    We can win that one right here in San Francisco and we can win it quickly.

    We can take away the figure-head chief who follows a long long line of figure-head chiefs and replace them with real reformers by electing same.

    In Boudin we have a District Attorney who will work diligently with a Reform minded Police Chief chosen by the people because they are a reformer.

    Keep in mind that we did not elect Chesa Boudin because he was good looking or was recommended by the Police Union or Mayor.

    We elected him because he came to us as an independent reformer.

    Hey, you got any brains and read the paper twice a month you know that the criminal justice system is stacked against the black and brown and poor.

    A billy club will do.