City Attorney Argues Mario Woods Shooting Justified in Response to Federal Lawsuit

San Francisco city officials responded Thursday to a federal lawsuit filed by the family of Mario Woods, saying Woods had told officers they would have to shoot him before he would drop the knife.

In a response filed in U.S. District Court Thursday by the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, the city states that officers fired bean bags, rubber bullets and pepper spray at Woods in the Dec. 2 Bayview District confrontation before five officers fatally shot him, “but he continued to refuse and would not submit to arrest.”

The response states that Woods, who was a suspect in a stabbing reported earlier in the afternoon, was armed with an 8 and a half-inch knife that he refused to drop. He was shot when he “attempted to flee by walking past the officers and toward the area where numerous bystanders congregated,” it said.

DNA on the knife was later matched to the stabbing victim, the response states.

“The officers’ actions were well within the settled parameters regarding the use of lethal force by police officers as spelled out by the United States Supreme Court,” the response states.

Woods’ shooting near a T-Third line stop on Third Street generated public outrage after it was captured on several bystander videos that were widely circulated on social media.

The videos, which appear to show police surrounding Woods and firing on him as he tries to walk away, have prompted calls for Police Chief Greg Suhr’s resignation and an apology from the Board of Supervisors. The department has also launched a review of use of force policies in its aftermath and is undergoing a federal review of policies and practices.

Attorney John Burris, who filed the civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit against the city in federal court in December, today said no one other than officers had heard Woods tell police they would have to shoot him, but even if he did, it did not justify the use of “extreme force.”

The fact that Woods kept going after multiple non-lethal weapons and was behaving erratically should have signaled to police that he was mentally impaired and should be handled under a different protocol, Burris said. A large number of officers were on the scene and bystanders were never in danger, he said.

“They had more than enough officers there to contain him, but they didn’t do that, they went on to deadly force,” Burris said.

The response does not state that Woods made a threatening move with the knife toward police, as Police Chief Greg Suhr initially said at a public meeting shortly after the shooting.

“They shouldn’t say that, because it didn’t happen,” Burris said today. “All that was really happening is he was walking away, he wasn’t threatening anyone, he didn’t threaten the cops, he was just walking away.”

Some criticism of the shooting has focused on the fact that one officer appeared to move directly into Woods’ path before officers opened fire. The response today argued that police “have no duty to retreat” and “may block the path of a fleeing suspect.”

An autopsy report was also released on Thursday showing that Woods suffered 20 penetrating gunshot wounds, many of them to the back of his body, and one apparent graze from a bullet. A number of the wounds to his arms, back, head, abdomen, thighs and buttons were located on the back of Woods’ body, and the report described 17 of them as having a “back to front” trajectory.

Woods also had several large bruises consistent with non-lethal projectiles, the autopsy found.

The autopsy also found that Woods had drugs in his system including methamphetamine and amphetamines, marijuana, anti-depressants, cough syrup, nicotine and caffeine.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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