Despite some uncertainties regarding the events leading up to her 911 call in October, 2019, witness Mercedes Emerson testified today that she was glad she called the police that evening, and if the same situation presented itself, she would do it again.
Emerson was the first defense witness to take the stand in the trial of San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel, who faces charges for unlawfully beating Dacari Spiers on Oct. 6, 2019, near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Stangel has been accused by the District Attorney of escalating his interaction with Spiers to a violent baton beating without warning or cause, in what is believed to be San Francisco’s first criminal trial of an on-duty police officer for excessive use of force.
Both sides agree that no violence was observed between Spiers and his then-girlfriend, Breonna Richard, when police arrived. It was Emerson’s 911 call alleging domestic violence that sent officers to the scene.
Emerson, a Sacramento resident who was visiting Pier 39 to celebrate the birthday of a friend’s daughter, told the jury today that she saw a couple arguing about a cell phone, and heard Spiers swearing at Richard, grabbing at her and putting her in a headlock before Emerson decided to call for help.
“Obviously, she didn’t want him bothering with her,” Emerson said. “And I’m like, ‘Someone needs to call the police.’ So I did.” Emerson said she did not hear Richard call for help.
In her 911 call, Emerson told dispatch that she saw a man “beating up on this girl,” and described him as dragging her by her neck. Her friend, she said, was filming the couple, but this footage has not been made available to the public, and it is unclear if it exists.
When she saw a police officer arrive, Emerson left the scene without speaking to anyone.
Emerson also testified today that she saw Spiers hitting Richard, but prosecutor Hans Moore pointed out that, in a 2019 interview with a DA investigator shortly after the incident, Emerson said she didn’t remember seeing Spiers hitting Richard.
“Maybe then I said I didn’t see him hitting her … But I remember him hitting her,” Emerson said. She believed that Richard was trying to get away from Spiers, but was unable to do so successfully.
Throughout questioning from the defense, Emerson was polite and cooperative, but when Moore cross-examined her, Emerson appeared put out and frustrated, particularly when Moore drew attention to potential inconsistencies in her account of what happened.
When Moore later asked Emerson about her 2019 statement to investigators that she initially saw Spiers and Richard just standing on the sidewalk that evening, Emerson stayed silent and stared ahead. She did not respond.
A juror asked Emerson how long she observed Spiers and Richard that night, and Emerson estimated she watched for 15 to 20 minutes. Moore jumped in again to show Emerson a prior statement where she told investigators that she saw the couple for one to two minutes before she continued on to her car and called police.
Emerson acquiesced upon reading the transcript of her past statement. On line 27, she pointed out, “It also says I’m not really good with time.”
The defense presented additional witnesses today who testified about Spiers’ past run-ins with law enforcement. Three of them were police officers who responded to scenes where Spiers was allegedly involved in violent behavior.
Since the start of Stangel’s trial last week, his attorneys have been building a defense around the idea of Spiers as a violent individual, in an apparent effort to justify the officers’ aggressive approach on the night of the 2019 incident.
When cross-examined by the prosecution, all three police officers who testified today described Spiers as compliant with orders and calm. One even acknowledged Spiers was respectful.
Two uniformed Richmond police officers testified about two occasions in 2012 and 2015 when Spiers was accused of domestic violence involving the mother of his child. Both incidents resulted in visible injuries to the woman; one led to Spiers’ arrest on felony charges, but no conviction followed. The other resulted in a verbal warning for Spiers to keep away from the victim.
One civilian witness also took the stand: Former San Francisco resident Andriy Kovalets said he left work to catch the bus one night in 2015, when Spiers jumped out at him and pushed him. After a brief argument, Kovalets said Spiers punched him and took his cell phone. Others joined in on the attack, Kovalets said, landing him in the emergency room with $13,000 in medical bills.
Today’s last witness brought by the defense was former Oakland police officer Eric Molina. In 2018, he happened upon a scene where Spiers was kicking another man unconscious in downtown Oakland.
Spiers, when questioned about this assault last week in court, admitted his guilt. In the 2018 incident, Spiers said he was protecting his then-girlfriend from a man who had touched her inappropriately: “I went too far,” he said. Molina said Spiers was ultimately arrested without incident for aggravated assault.
The prosecution will present its final witness tomorrow, and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa M. Caffese said the trial appears to be on schedule to conclude next week.