Officer Terry Stangel at the courthouse on the first day of his trial for the 2019 beating of Dacari Spiers. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

On the fourth day of SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel’s trial for his 2019 beating of Dacari Spiers, police body camera footage showed an officer announcing that there are no witnesses to interview. Only moments earlier, the same footage revealed that two people offered to tell the officer what they had witnessed.

“Was your report complete and accurate?” prosecutor Rebecca Young asked Officer Gonee Sepulveda, who worked with Stangel at Central Station at the time of the incident. 

“No,” Sepulveda said. 

The officer had noted one witness interview in her report that evening. But when she reviewed her body camera footage prior to taking the witness stand Thursday, Sepulveda said she noticed something she hadn’t registered on the night of the incident. Not one, but two additional witnesses were present at the scene. 

Instead of interviewing them, or taking down their information, Sepulveda is shown turning to Stangel and another responding officer, telling them that no other witnesses would talk. 

“I didn’t notice him,” Sepulveda said Thursday, when asked why she seemed to disregard a Latino man who at one point appeared on her body-worn camera, trying to provide a witness statement. Sepulveda said that she had no memory of that happening. 

At that point in the video, she is shown interviewing witness Dayton Denmark, who had gotten out of his car to watch what was happening. Denmark, a Dallas resident, tells Sepulveda that he saw a couple arguing, but the police beating came out of nowhere and seemed unwarranted, a view he repeated yesterday in court. 

On video, Denmark told Sepulveda on Oct. 6, 2019, that his wife had also seen what happened, but Sepulveda doesn’t speak with her.  

When asked about why she didn’t interview yet another available witness, Sepulveda said she was focused on speaking with Breonna Richard, Spiers’ then-girlfriend. Officers were responding to a 911 call that alleged someone with Spiers’ description was choking a woman.  

Richard had already insisted that no physical altercation had transpired between herself and Spiers, but Sepulveda wasn’t convinced, knowing that victims of domestic violence are not always forthcoming about abuse. 

“I was focused on wanting to speak with Ms. Richard. I wasn’t attempting to talk to anyone else,” Sepulveda told the court yesterday. She added that her duty was to investigate the domestic violence call, and the use of force was, per SFPD protocol, to be separately investigated by a sergeant. 

But why did she tell Stangel that there were no other witnesses? Sepulveda couldn’t recall. It is unclear whether Denmark’s wife eventually provided her account of what happened to investigators. 

The criminal trial against Stangel is believed to be San Francisco’s first against an on-duty police officer for use of excessive force. 

Dacari Spiers’ October, 2019, beating by Officer Terrance Stangel left him in a wheelchair for for six weeks, according to his attorneys. He still ‘walks funny’ and has not been able to return to his previous work as a delivery driver. Photo courtesy of Spiers’ attorneys.

As Stangel’s attorneys point to the alleged domestic violence as justification for Stangel beating Spiers and breaking two of his bones, witness testimony is of critical importance. While domestic violence is alleged on the 911 call, witnesses like Denmark disputed they saw anything out of the ordinary — and Spiers and Richard were not engaged in domestic violence when officers arrived. 

“With paper in hand, pen in hand,” Sepulveda failed to get information from the witnesses that were right in front of her, said prosecutor Hans Moore in his opening statement on Monday. 

Four days into the trial, no police officer or civilian has testified that they saw or heard any evidence of the violence between Spiers and Richard that was reported in the 911 call. 

Denmark was in his car watching Spiers and Richard, whom he recalls were having a verbal argument on the sidewalk. “It wasn’t nothing out of the ordinary,” he said on the stand on Thursday. “Your neighbors argue, families argue.” 

As far as he saw, the argument didn’t get physical, Denmark said. But when police suddenly arrived and he heard the metallic sound of Stangel’s baton being whipped out, he said things got “intense.” 

“Something just was telling me, ‘this not right, I need to go say something,’” Denmark said, explaining why he went to talk to officers on the night of the beating. He had his wife park the car and he hopped out to keep watching. It was this same urge that brought him to court on Thursday, Denmark said. “I felt like I had to. Because, you know, like, it could be me.” 

Trina Pittman, another witness presented by prosecutors yesterday, was a close friend of the 911 caller. That 911 call alleging that a man was choking a woman brought the police to the corner of Beach and Powell streets that evening in 2019. 

Pittman confirmed she was subpoenaed to appear in court. She said she saw a couple being intimate that night as she hurried ahead of her group to the car to get warm. Pittman didn’t notice anything unusual, but later she heard a commotion involving a man being “loud and obnoxious” in the street, and telling someone to stop recording him. 

Pittman couldn’t confirm whether the man in the street was Spiers, or whether the couple she saw was in fact Spiers and Richard. 

The trial will continue on Monday, Feb. 14. The prosecution’s last witness is expected to take the stand 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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4 Comments

  1. Crooked cops threatened the man recording them. I hope the man steps forward. SFPD will not stop at anything to protect one of their own bad cops.

  2. Thanks Eleni,

    Gotta admit cops are consistent about witnesses in the stories they tell.

    You did a story a couple of weeks back about a guy dragging a bus driver off his bus and leave him bleeding on the ground and cops arrived and not only did not even attempt to arrest or even talk to the guy …

    they then talked to witnesses and made no record of it!

    No police report at all.

    Copping in this town sucks because the cops mock and ignore their chief because he’s expendable and three hundred grand a year jobs don’t grow on trees

    Peskin should introduce a Charter Measure to give the Public a chance to require that they get a choice in who our Police Chief is and what they stand for.

    Kinda like, ohhh

    The Sheriff

    or

    Public Defender.

    DA’s office will be the same once all of the anti-reform deadwood is gone.

    Right wingers complain about all of the people fired so I asked Matt Gonzalez who has gone up against that staff for over 20 years and he replied:

    “He didn’t fire enough.”

    Matt’s a really mild mannered guy so that says lots.

    Go Rams!

    h.

  3. Uh, why is Sepulveda allowed to review her body work camera footage before giving evidence? There are more charges that should be laid in this case.

    1. @21five why shouldn’t Officer Sepulveda not look at the footage? The public need to remember LEO have multiple contact a shift so imagine trying to remember one specific moment in time. Oh and this case didn’t happen this year or even last so just imagine how many contacts she has had. Oh and if she doesn’t look and then says something not truthful then she gets hit with a Brady case.

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