Witnesses Contradict Police Account on Mission District Shooting of Homeless Man

San Francisco police officers shot and killed a homeless man in San Francisco’s Mission District this morning after responding to a report of a man with a knife.

The man, described by police as a male adult Latino, was shot shortly after 10 a.m. in the 400 block of Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th street. Residents and workers in the area today said the street is home to a well-established homeless encampment.

Police Chief Greg Suhr said police were called to the scene at 9:57 a.m. when a homeless outreach team reported someone waving a large kitchen knife.

Officers responded and apparently tried to subdue a man, who was homeless and had been living on Shotwell for the past couple of months, by shooting four less-lethal beanbag rounds at him, according to Suhr.

However, Suhr said the man got up and “charged,” causing two officers to fire at least seven shots at him. One of the two officers was a sergeant.

The man was taken to San Francisco General Hospital and went into surgery in “very critical” condition, but hospital officials said he has since died.

The department has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the December shooting of Mario Woods in San Francisco’s Bayview District. Woods was armed with a knife, and witness videos of the shooting caused many to question whether he posed a threat to officers or could have been subdued by other means.

Suhr has proposed changes to the department’s use of force policies in response to the controversy, including an increased emphasis on conflict deescalation and the use of non-lethal force, as well as new equipment including shields and Tasers. In addition, the department is undergoing a review by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

“We have been working hard to figure out how to deal with folks with edged weapons,” Suhr acknowledged today. “Apparently this event went really quickly. We’ll have to look into it to find out why it had to go down as it did.”

San Francisco Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran released a statement this afternoon arguing the officers had made “repeated demands” to the suspect to drop the knife and had to fire when challenged “to protect the public from harm.”

However, questions have been raised about the police account by witnesses on Shotwell who told reporters that the man, who they called “Jose,” was not holding a knife in his hands at the time of the shooting, but instead had it strapped to his hip.

John Visor, 33, said Jose, who he said did not speak English, started to stand when police arrived, and one officer fired beanbag rounds before a sergeant shot at him.

“He didn’t charge at no officers, he was going in circles because he didn’t understand what they were saying,” Visor said.

The reports caused Supervisor David Campos to respond on Twitter. “So many questions being raised by witnesses to latest tragic SFPD shooting. Need independent investigation by DOJ Civil Rights Div now!”

Mayor Ed Lee said that in addition to the police and District Attorney’s Office investigations he has asked the Office of Citizen Complaints to investigate the shooting.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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