A San Francisco Superior Court judge declared a mistrial today in the case against Jose Corvera, after the jury deadlocked on two counts of resisting arrest and two of threatening police.
Corvera, who police shot at in a 2022 standoff because they believed he had a real firearm, was found guilty on only one count of brandishing an imitation firearm.
The 52-year-old had been riding a rentable city bicycle while rolling his own bicycle on a Mission District sidewalk on Aug. 6, 2022, when two officers tried to stop him shortly before 8 a.m. He pulled out and shot a realistic imitation firearm, and a 40-minute standoff ensued, during which the police sprayed the nearby homes and cars of Shotwell Street with bullets.
After issuing their decision Thursday, the jurors revealed that they had been leaning 9-3 toward finding Corvera guilty on the other four charges. But, after three days of deliberation, they could not reach an agreement.
“It makes me disappointed in the community,” said Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Natividad, who has maintained throughout the trial that police stopped Corvera unlawfully, and therefore should have been found innocent.
After leaving the courtroom, jurors said they primarily had doubts about whether officers had lawfully stopped Corvera.
And even though no one was harmed during the incident, the police department’s handling of the standoff raised concerns among veteran officers who reviewed the case at Mission Local’s behest.
After the incident, bullet holes were found in two homes behind Corvera, having struck a girl’s stack of clothing, a couch, and apartment and bedroom walls.
“It was really reckless, it was putting people’s lives at harm,” said Carl Tennenbaum, a retired veteran police sergeant who used to work as a hostage and crisis negotiator with the San Francisco Police Department. “Once he was behind the car … they’ve got nothing but time … it was basically a low-level infraction that didn’t really justify everything that came after it.”
Tennenbaum acknowledged that police are taught to shoot to “disable the threat,” but said it was obvious from where the bullets ended up that police officers could not see Corvera to get a clear shot.
Veteran cops lamented the fact that patrol officers no longer routinely debrief after shootings to determine what needed improvement.
“I want to know who fired the shots, who fired each shot,” said one longtime officer. “How many weren’t reasonable or can’t be accounted for? How many are sympathetic fire?”
Another veteran officer with tactical experience agreed that patrol units should conduct better reviews after shootings, but said that the police department is resistant to the idea.
“When it comes to [police shootings], the department gets hesitant to talk about it, because of all the ancillary legal ramifications,” he said.
At least one police officer shot at Corvera through his own windshield.
Officer Cory Faubel, who shot the majority of the bullets fired in the incident, can be heard on his body-worn camera saying he wanted to avoid shooting through the police cruiser’s windshield.
His colleague, as if encouraging him to do so, said: “Come on, it’s already fucked.”
Firing through a windshield without experience can bring on more issues, said a veteran officer with tactical experience. The windows in police cars are glazed, and shooting through them results in a deflection — which can cause a bullet to travel far from its intended target. The veteran officer praised Faubel for taking a good position behind his car, but surmised that the officer had inadvertently grazed his own vehicle while firing. This can result in tiny pieces of metal blowing back at the shooter, leading the officer to believe he has been shot.
This could explain why, after firing off several rounds, Faubel ducked and said on his body-worn camera, “Oh, fuck, he shot me.”
Corvera’s faux pistol only fired blanks. It is not confirmed whether he’d fired it at this point in the shootout.
After the jury was dismissed, both prosecutor Robert Perkins and deputy public defender Natividad spoke at length with the jurors, asking questions and soliciting feedback about the trial and their arguments.
Jurors’ main outstanding question was about the legality of the initial traffic stop when police first initiated contact with Corvera — a question that was raised throughout the trial.
Though the police said after the incident that the officers believed Corvera may have stolen the extra bike he had, and that they wanted to cite him for biking on the sidewalk, jurors remained doubtful.
Retired SFPD sergeant Tennenbaum said that to him, “This was obviously a pretext stop.” He added that police were technically justified to stop Corvera since he had committed an infraction. “There was a time that that would have been considered good police work.”
But, he asked: “Was it really necessary?”
“I feel like it was quite obvious that police fabricated the reason that they were pulling him over,” Natividad said in an interview after the trial.
One juror said that some members of the jury had wondered whether prosecutors were “just throwing everything possible out there, hoping something sticks.”
Jurors said that video evidence or a radio call of the officers’ alleged reason for the stop could have “clinched” the case, but none existed, apparently in accordance with department policy. Officers are required to give a “public safety statement” on the scene, but that is not recorded. Well after the incident, they must give an “initial statement” to investigators.
As a result, jurors doubted whether the initial reason for the traffic stop was actually for riding on the sidewalk.
Natividad said she filed a motion to dismiss the case under the Racial Justice Act, which has not yet been heard. The motion is now scheduled to be heard on Dec. 13.
Though Corvera’s only conviction was on the single misdemeanor charge, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Michael McNaughton granted prosecutor Perkins’ request that Corvera not be released from custody, pending a retrial.
Corvera, who was otherwise silent throughout the four-day trial, became audibly frustrated at this news: “They almost killed me,” he argued with his attorney in Spanish. According to Natividad, one bullet had passed through Corvera’s beanie as he crouched behind a car during the standoff.
“I know it’s unfair. It’s racist and unfair. The system is unfair,” Natividad could be heard telling Corvera. He will be referred to a residential treatment program.
Perkins declined to comment on the outcome of the case.
Joe Eskenazi contributed to this report.