The death of a 65-year-old San Francisco man shot by a police officer after allegedly threatening him with a machete over the weekend was likely “suicide-by-cop,” Police Chief George Gascon said today.
Two Ingleside police officers responded to 87 Maynard St. to check on Edward Smith’s welfare on Saturday at about 5:25 p.m. According to a voice mail message police played to reporters today, Smith had told his doctor about his intention prior to their arrival.
On the message, a man who police identified as Smith told the doctor, “Just called the cops.” The next part of the recording is partially inaudible but contains the phrase “my house anymore,” possibly preceded by the word “not.”
“So I’m gonna try to take them out when they come to take me,” Smith said. “It’s all over today, doctor, it’s all over today. Bye-bye.”
Gascon said, “It looks really like a classic suicide-by-cop incident.”
Police said it was unclear whether Smith was being evicted from the home.
Officers responded to Smith’s home when a female roommate called 911 to report Smith had “some psychiatric problems” and was drinking and taking medication, according to homicide Inspector Michael Morley, the lead investigator in the case.
The woman told the dispatcher that Smith was not violent and there were no weapons in the home, police said.
However, when one of the officers entered the home, where Smith lived with two roommates and the homeowner, Smith unsheathed a 26-inch machete and raised it above his head, according to Morley.
Smith did not say anything to the officer, Morley said.
He ignored the officer’s orders to drop the weapon and as the officer backed out onto the front porch, continued to advance on him and the officer fired at least three shots, police said. Smith was pronounced dead at the scene.
The entire episode took less than three minutes, police said.
Gascon said Smith was standing in the threshold of the front door, about two to three feet from the officer, when the officer discharged his gun. It was not immediately clear how many of the bullets struck Smith.
The machete represented “unquestionably a deadly weapon,” Gascon said.
An investigation is ongoing, Gascon said.
The name of the officer who fired the shots has not been released.
Police spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka said the officer has worked for the department for about three-and-a-half years and was previously employed by the sheriff’s department.
Gascon also took time today to address the possible acquisition of Tasers by the Police Department, which he advocates, noting the sheriff’s department already uses them.
“It is a tool that we need to have,” Gascon said, though he maintained a Taser would likely not have been useful in this particular incident, arguing the distance was too close and the confrontation happened too quickly. He added that the officers were not expecting an altercation when they arrived.
The addition of Tasers must be approved by the police commission.
Gascon said he hoped to get the commission’s approval and add them to the department’s arsenal by the end of the year.
Though Tasers have been implicated in several deaths, Gascon said the vast majority of uses by police are not fatal.
“I think Tasers do prevent and reduce injuries, and in some cases it can actually save lives,” he said.