The officers strapped Dacari Spiers’s legs to the gurney. One leg had been beaten by an officer’s baton; Spiers would soon learn it was broken. “What am I being arrested for?” Spiers yells at the officers. “Why are you arresting me if you don’t have a reason to?’” he asks again in frustration.
“For resisting,” an officer tells him on video.
“What am I being arrested for?” Spiers asks again.
All of this is caught on the body-worn camera footage shown today in the trial of San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel, who is charged with four felony charges for the beating of Spiers. The footage was presented as Nina Small, the paramedic at the scene, testified about what she had witnessed the night of Oct. 6, 2019, when she arrived on the scene.
The footage shows Spiers saying to Small, who is in the back of the ambulance during the exchange, “When I got out of the car, he immediately arrested me.”
Spiers also tells Small that as he was being arrested, he pushed an officer with his hand. That action appears evident in other body camera footage shown last week by the defense. Spiers denied last week that the push was a threat.
During cross-examination by the defense today, Stangel’s defense attorney, Nicole Pifari, asked Small if she remembered the conversation where Spiers said that the officers arrested him immediately, and that Spiers had attempted to push an officer with his hand as he was being arrested.
When Small couldn’t recall, Pifari played the footage that showed Spiers repeatedly asking the officer what happened. Small is in the background, offering Spiers a splint for his leg and asking what occurred.
Despite struggling to hear the audio at first, Small agreed that the video was an accurate and fair representation of her conversation with Spiers that night. The defense appeared anxious to establish the officer’s intent to announce the arrest of Spiers and the action by Spiers to push the officer away. It was unclear how the jury took this in.
The prosecution, led by the District Attorney’s Office, asked Small what she observed when she first arrived on scene. Small said that when she responded to a call at 9:21 p.m. and arrived at Beach and Powell streets, she saw Spiers lying on his right side, surrounded by police. She found abrasions on his left and right shins, and a swelling on his left wrist, which would later be deemed broken.
Prosecutor Rebecca Young asked Small if she heard officers read Spiers his Miranda warning in the ambulance. She did not, she said, but she wasn’t listening for them to do so either.
Young then asked Small if it was possible that Spiers instead told her, “they rushed me immediately” instead of “they arrested me immediately.”
“From the video, is it clear? Is it fair to say it’s not?” Young said.
“That’s fair,” Small nodded.
Small also testified Monday that she administered 50 micrograms of fentanyl, an opiate that paramedics use to control pain. The amount is within protocol. “He rated his pain level 10 out of 10, and that was enough for me to know I could give him pain medication,” Small said.
The defense focused on the medication as well. After Pifari replayed the video of Spiers talking with the officer and Small in the ambulance, she questioned Small: “Can you tell if you’d administered the pain medication yet?”
“I don’t think I did,” Small said. She explained that she saw herself with a splint, and that probably preceded giving drugs since she “would’ve had to do the IV [intravenous line/tube].”
The prosecution then called Dr. Nikolaj Wolfson, the orthopedic surgeon who treated Spiers, to the stand. Wolfson examined Spiers the following morning, and noticed “a number of injuries,” including “skin lacerations” on the shins and a fracture on the wrist.
During the cross examination, Pifari asked Wolfson if those injuries could have occurred as a result of a fall. Wolfson confirmed this and added, “the fracture to the leg could also happen as a result of a fall. Not likely, but possible.”
Monday’s final witness for the prosecution was San Francisco Police Department Officer Ryan Champlin, who responded with his partner that night, after the situation was already under control.
“I didn’t get there until relatively late,” Champlin said. As a result, he offered to interview some witnesses and found two men standing on the corner who were there during the incident. One of the men wore a cap, and the other, dressed in a black beanie, was video-recording the interaction using his phone, he said.
Prosecutor Hans Moore replayed body camera footage of that interview. After Pifari approached the bench, the video was not shown to the jury, but was audible.
The witness with the cap describes one of the 911 callers. She had “short hair. She was wearing a dark blue dress. I didn’t see her shoes,” he says.
Referring to the events before the police arrived, the witness wearing a cap, says, “I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.” The prosecution focused on this point, presumably in reference to the allegation of domestic violence between Spiers and his girlfriend that eventually triggered a 911 call.
Moore asked Champlin what he did after interviewing the man with the cap. Champlin said he spoke with Officer Stangel and offered to find the original 911 callers.
“Whatever you want, man,” Stangel responds to Champlin’s offer on body camera footage, which was shielded from the jury. “It is what it is.”
Moore asked what Stangel might have meant by the comment.
“My take was … sometimes it’s not possible to find the witnesses. If they are not answering the phone, and multiple officers call and they don’t answer the phone, it is what it is. You try as hard as you can … but there’s nothing you can do,” Champlin said.
Champlin said the callers were apparently described by another officer “as two Black females.” They apparently left after police arrived, he said. One officer said they headed south on Powell Street.
Following questions by the prosecution, Champlin said he did not see Stangel ask the man with the cap for his name, and Champlin did not write a report. Champlin said he and his partner went south on Powell in search of the original 911 callers, but were unsuccessful.
The trial recessed early today as the prosecution’s last witness cannot appear until Thursday. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa M. Caffese apologized to the jury, but mentioned Valentine’s Day and said, “you’ll have some free time to do your work and [for] personal affairs.”
The trial resumes for a full day on Wednesday at 9 a.m., when the defense will call its first witnesses to the stand.