A man carrying an imitation firearm who was arrested following a standoff — during which San Francisco police officers fired some 15 shots — went on trial today in San Francisco Superior Court. Jose Corvera faces charges of resisting arrest, threatening police, and exhibiting an imitation gun.
In his opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Robert Perkins blamed Corvera and his actions for the shootout that occurred in broad daylight on Shotwell Street. Corvera’s defense attorney blamed the officers, saying they should never have stopped Corvera in the first place.
Police initiated contact with Corvera early on Aug. 6, 2022, as he rode a rentable blue city bicycle near 18th and Shotwell streets. At the same time, he rolled a red bicycle alongside him. By the end of the incident, the block of Shotwell Street was riddled with bullet holes after a 40-minute standoff.
Corvera’s gun, it turned out, was an imitation weapon that fired blanks. After nearly an hour, during which at least 15 shots were fired, Corvera surrendered the weapon and was arrested without further incident or injury.
Corvera’s public defender, Kathleen Natividad, implied that the two officers who pursued Corvera were racially profiling him.
“We would not be here today if the person in that video was a white man and was wearing nice clothes,” she said.
Natividad said police only claimed they suspected Corvera had stolen a bicycle days after the shootout. She framed this as an excuse, and alleged that the suspicion of a stolen bicycle was not mentioned in the officers’ radio calls, nor in their body-worn camera footage.
Corvera had, in fact, been rolling his own bike, she said, not a stolen one.
During Natividad’s opening statement, Perkins made repeated objections, all of which were overruled by the judge.
“They’re trying to do a consensual stop, right?” said Natividad, who claimed officers asked permission to speak with Corvera, instead of commanding him to stop. “Because they know they don’t have enough reasonable suspicion to detain him.”
Officer Cain Schrachta, a new member of the police department who had been in training for less than five weeks at the time, testified first. His training officer, Michael Rotschi, was driving the police car when they saw Corvera riding a bicycle on the sidewalk of 18th Street. According to Schrachta, Rotschi asked Corvera to stop and talk, but Corvera ignored him and continued riding onto Shotwell Street.
The officers followed him, and Schrachta got out of the car.
“I got out of our vehicle to approach him,” said Schrachta, who explained that his reason for stopping Corvera was that he was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. “Right as I did so, he put the red bike down on the floor, got off the blue bike, and immediately started running.”
Schrachta testified that his plan was to stop Corvera, identify and question him and, “in all likelihood,” issue a citation.
Schrachta’s first call on his radio from inside the squad car, however, only identified Corvera as a suspicious person — it made no mention of a stolen bicycle or the infraction of riding on the sidewalk. Schrachta said he and Rotschi had discussed their reasoning during the 30-second audio lag in their body-worn camera, which takes footage but has no sound.
When Schrachta began to pursue Corvera on foot, he dropped both bikes and began to run. Schrachta briefly chased Corvera, but retreated after Corvera pulled out his imitation gun and ducked behind a parked car.
Natividad said Corvera’s reaction was one rooted in fear, as a former member of the military who had been stopped and shot at by police in the past.
Corvera appeared in court on Monday in a blue collared shirt and black vest, and listened to the case through Spanish interpreters in the courtroom. He has been in custody for most of the 15 months since the incident — he was briefly released and was rearrested and incarcerated in June.
“He knew he wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Natividad said, as Corvera nodded. “He did not shoot at them first. No, no, no, no, no.”
Schrachta, however, testified that Corvera shot first, and that he and his training officer returned fire with a single shot each.
“I was afraid he was gonna shoot me with the gun,” Schrachta said.
Eventually, Natividad estimated that close to 80 other officers arrived on the scene. Those others fired additional rounds, with at least 15 shots fired. One of the bullets went through Corvera’s beanie, Natividad said, narrowly missing his head.
Perkins said Corvera’s actions brought on the shooting. He said that officers had no way of knowing that the gun wasn’t real — a claim that Natividad disputed.
“This is not about blaming the police officers for targeting Mr. Corvera,” Perkins said in his opening statement. “They had a job to do. They saw someone violating the traffic code, they saw what might have been a stolen bike.”
Then, Perkins added, Corvera “pulled out a gun, that everyone on that street had every reason to believe was a real gun.”
Two other witnesses who were on Shotwell Street at the time of the incident testified today that they believed the gun to be real. They described their attempts to duck for cover, and officers’ attempts to get Corvera to drop his weapon.
One of those witnesses also agreed that Corvera appeared to be fearful.
Therese Stewart, a witness who was on her way to pilates class the day of the incident and had to hide for cover behind her car, said the situation was fraught, and that Corvera’s similar crouched, low stance behind a car was that of “someone who’s a little fearful.”
The trial will continue tomorrow.