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 four days of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict Monday acquitting Police Officer Terrance Stangel of three charges for beating Dacari Spiers with a baton in 2019.

The decision was read before a courtroom full of police officers. Stangel’s mother breathed a sigh of relief and his attorney, Nicole Pifari, hugged her client after the verdict was read.

“We’re happy that the jury took their job so seriously, and we think that the verdict is the right one,” Pifari said after leaving the courtroom. SFPD members and the acting president of the police union, Tracy McCray, were seen happily hugging and shaking hands.

Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Young said the outcome was “hugely disappointing.” She said she believed “there was abundant evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of an assault by excessive force once Dacari Spiers was on the ground and was being held down by his partner.”

Stangel would have been the first San Francisco Police officer to be convicted for an on-duty beating. He faced four felony charges, brought by District Attorney Chesa Boudin in December, 2020: battery with serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and assault under color of authority. 

The 12-person jury delivered its verdict at 3:05 p.m. Monday, finding Stangel not guilty on the first three counts. Because the jury failed to find consensus on the fourth charge, the court declared a mistrial on that charge.

Earlier this morning, the jury returned to the courtroom to announce that they were unable to reach a verdict on two of the four counts. When asked by the judge, a jury spokesperson confirmed the 12-person panel was “hopelessly deadlocked” with a 9-3 vote on count four. The jury then returned to the deliberation room to further discuss count three, with one dissenting juror. A hopeful crowd gathered outside the courtroom after the jury took lunch, but eventually dispersed when no verdict came.

Eventually, the jurors declared Stangel not guilty on his first three charges of assault and battery. The jury was hung on the fourth charge, which directly relates to Stangel’s role as an on-duty police officer. The District Attorney’s Office may decide to retry the case on the fourth charge, if it so chooses.

“It’s going to take a few days to understand why 12 jurors didn’t share [our] perspective, and it may have something to do with the fact that the black community is not on these juries,” Young said. She was not sure whether Boudin would choose to retry Stangel for misusing his authority as a police officer.

District Attorney spokesperson Rachel Marshall said that even though juries “struggle” to hold police accountable, “DA Boudin is committed to continuing our work in holding those who commit harm accountable, even if they wear a badge.”

Young noted that the jury was conflicted on charging Stangel in a situation they felt his partner, Officer Cuauhtémoc Martinez, had started. “He was the one with the initial really poor tactics,” Young said, and jurors felt that Stangel was “just confronted with a bad situation.”

Stangel and Martínez were responding to a 911 call about a domestic violence incident when they encountered Dacari Spiers and his then-girlfriend near Fisherman’s Wharf. The couple matched the description provided by dispatch, but were not involved in a physical altercation when the officers arrived. 

The officers’ body-worn camera footage, which captured the interaction, shows Martínez and Stangel quickly approaching the couple and trying to grab Spiers without explanation. Within seconds, Martínez was grappling with Spiers, and Stangel began beating Spiers with his metal baton, breaking two of his bones. 

Prior to the verdict, Spiers told Mission Local that he was trying to keep a positive attitude, and was finding himself increasingly invested in watching how Stangel’s trial played out. Regardless of the outcome, though, he still felt that “at the end of the day, I’m still gonna be the one that loses.”

Throughout 11 days of trial, prosecutors argued that Stangel disregarded his police training to de-escalate and take time to assess the situation and instead escalated it. While Spiers may have resisted and questioned the officers’ advances, prosecutors told jurors that he acted within his rights. 

Stangel’s attorney portrayed her client as a well-meaning officer who was trying to protect his partner from a “violent” and “assaultive” Spiers. The defense called two expert witnesses to support its case, including an SFPD training officer who said the beating was justified. 

“This was not just a trial of Stangel. It was inevitably a trial of SFPD as well,” wrote John Crew, a police practices expert and retired attorney with the ACLU, in an email to Mission Local.

Multiple witnesses testified that the couple was arguing, but the two 911 callers were the only ones to claim the argument turned violent. 

Stangel is among a small handful of police officers the District Attorney’s Office has charged with felonies for using excessive force against a civilian. A Campaign Zero report from 2016 found that, out of more than 4,000 police killings across the country over the prior three years, only 85 of them led to criminal charges against the officer. Only six of those officers were convicted.

Such charges have been seen by some as “politically motivated,” as Stangel’s attorney, Pifari, told the jury last week was the case in this trial. Pifari repeated this view again today, and told Mission Local that she believed District Attorney Chesa Boudin was “tipping the scales of justice to pursue his political agenda.”

As part of such politics, Stangel’s trial has sparked a public fallout between the SFPD and the DA. 

In January, during a pre-trial hearing days before opening arguments, an investigator for the DA’s office testified that she was pressured to withhold evidence from the SFPD. Although the judge ruled that the “evidence” was duplicative and neither relevant nor exculpatory, Police Chief Bill Scott moved to end an agreement that ensures the DA’s office will independently investigate police use-of-force incidents. 

That agreement, first signed in 2019, is set to expire May 20. 

Last week, a federal judge sanctioned the SFPD by a judge for withholding evidence from the very same incident: Police interviews were not provided to Spiers’ attorneys in his civil case against the city. In February, the Board of Supervisors ratified a $700,000 settlement with Spiers.

Stangel’s trial was often focused on Spiers, the man he beat. Spiers was never charged with any crime after that night in October, 2019, but jurors heard accounts of Spiers’ temperament, previous encounters with law enforcement, and his physical stature; both Stangel and Martínez testified that Spiers seemed larger than he is. In her closing argument last week, Pifari told the jury to dismiss Spiers’ testimony as dishonest.

 “In some ways the trial was about who is ‘allowed’ to act confused when confronted by police,” Crew wrote. “Who can ask questions (‘what did I do?’) and who can’t. [It was] about who will be viewed as so inherently dangerous that any attempt at de-escalation is instantly dismissed.”

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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. I didn’t know that Martinez didn’t ask questions and immediately try to force Dacari (unfortunately this isn’t uncommon) and it only leads to escalation.

    1. Yes, Cadence, it does.
      Dacari reacted exactly as anyone would, especially a black man, when forcibly detained…
      oh yea, thats against the law as well.
      However it was the second officer, Spangle, who beat the victim, Mr Spiers, EIGHT times with a metal baton. The reaction in comments speaks volumes as to the feelings that the officer was justified in striking an innocent citizen with a baton, even when the citizen was doing nothing wrong.
      Its appalling.
      oh, yea, no matter your ancestry, religion, color; once you’ve taken the oath to become a policeman, you’re blue, through & through evermore.
      The jury failed the system and the system failed the victim.
      One can only hope the DOJ takes a look at the civil rights violatons that went on.

  2. WOW.
    Since WHEN is it JUSTIFIABLE force to beat the crap out of ANYONE with a METAL BATON, Not once, but EIGHT FRIGGING TIMES?
    EIGHT TIMES!
    On an UNARMED civilian.
    Thats sick.
    I’d like to know why the jury didnt request a baton brought to the jury room, then beat an object EIGHT times with the baton, and see what it takes to BREAK that object, let alone a wrist or a leg. wait, what?
    A wrist? THINK People!
    Spiers had his damn arm up to PROTECT himself from the baton! Clearly, Spiers wasn’t resisting the officer while protecing himself, it was the officer who was out of control.
    this wasnt about the police v the DA, it was about the police and the use of force, NO MATTER WHAT.
    An officer is supposed to be trained to stay in control in any situation, or bring the situation back into control. It isnt an easy task, but its still supposed to be the FIRST thing done, not ignored then go right to beating someone.
    The officer saw a couple who looked like the report, but they werent even arguing-yet Officer Stangel & his partner abused their authority, grabbing a BLACK guy out with his girl, a man with no idea what the hell was going on, and the civilian-justifiably-reacted accordingly.
    Considering the recent protests, the reality of black men arrested or assaulted by the police, its obvious Spiers panicked.
    instead of de-escalating the situation, the officers let it get badly out of control, by causing it to go out of control!
    Praising anyone for beating a man eight times with a metal baton is grotesque. It’s proof that things are anything but civil out there- proof that we should worry about the future.
    I have always supported my police, I believe in the sanctity of the law. Of civility, but what’s been going on country-wide, has me worried for my grandchildren’s future.
    Think about what you’re telling children today; our future, when they learn its okay for the police to use the kind of force that civilians go to jail for, but a policeman is justified using out-of-control force on an unarmed man.
    I weep for the future.

  3. There are three possible options.
    a. The jury was racist (but for some reason didn’t acquit him of the last charge).
    b. Boudin’s office is incompetent.
    c. The media failed to provide an accurate and complete reporting.

    1. The prosecutor they quoted seems to think it is (a), but of course it is (b). Boudin brought in a public defender (Rebecca Young) specifically for the purpose of prosecuting this case. A seasoned prosecutor _might_ have been able to get a conviction in this weak case, but I don’t think Boudin has any seasoned prosecutors left on his staff.

    2. d. It’s exceedingly hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a cop used excessive force.

      1. EIGHT strikes with a metal baton, breaking bones with the baton.
        a wrist bone, broken, in ANY investigation, that’s a defensive wound.
        a leg bone broken.
        bone v metal baton = obvious assault.
        that is hardly justified when the manxs on the ground, getting the s**t beat out of him with a metal baton.
        ever pick one up?
        ever hold one above you, slamming it down on a persons body, repeatedly, sharply, and as hard and fast as you can, because that guy on the street didnt do anything wrong, except resist being grabbed by the you, just because he *looked* like a guy reportedly beating his girlfriend.
        Just cus he looked like the guy.
        Its not that it is difficult to prove, its that a jury doesnt want to be the one to prosecute a cop.
        I wonder why?

  4. Eleni,

    Thank you for all of your work in this case which is certain to have already changed the behavior of bad apple cops and their enablers.

    No one ever stood up to these bullies before in the 41 years I’ve watched the local law n’ order scene and Boudin did just that.

    DA stood up to POA and that works for me.

    Long range solution is to elect a Police Chief who answers to the voters and was elected on a platform with planks Public will hold them to.

    Again, Michael Hennessey’s idea; I’m just guy keeping it on life support.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  5. Wow. I thought he was for sure guilty. Regardless of the verdict it’s not a proud moment for SFPD.

  6. Good. Waste of SF city $$. That $$ could be used on other things. Clean streets, safe streets, better public school.

  7. This has to take the wind out of Chesa’s sails. From his perspective, this would have been his crowning achievement prior to be recalled in June, which is inevitable.

  8. Good for that officer. The jury was fair. The system worked. DA Boudin recall in a few months.