Man killed by police in San Francisco leaves suicide note

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP
The cell phone of a man fatally shot Sunday by San Francisco police contained a suicide note titled “Dear Officer(s)” in which Matthew Hoffman said police should not feel blame for his death. The note was revealed Monday by police with family permission.

“You did nothing wrong. You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself,” Hoffman's said in the note. “I provoked you. I threatened your life as well as the lives of those around me.”

The note was one of multiple suicide letters saved on the phone, police said.

Hoffman, a 32-year-old white man and Bay Area resident, had the letter saved on his phone when he walked into a restricted parking lot of the Mission District police station on Sunday evening, police said Monday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The encounter began at about 5:20 p.m. PT on Sunday. Three police sergeants noticed a man loitering in the parking lot, which was clearly labeled as restricted access even though a gate is left open to allow police to come and go, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Monday, according to AP.

Hoffman was asked to leave the personnel-only area, and he seemed at first to be ready to comply, according to reports. Yet seconds later, Hoffman turned back toward them, staring at them and blocking the lot’s exit. He was again asked to leave.

Hoffman was facing the sergeants with his hands in his front shirt pockets. When police asked to see his hands, he lifted a sweater to reveal what appeared to be a butt of a handgun, according to Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman.

Hoffman then reached for his waistband and pulled out what was later identified as an air gun loaded with BBs that was missing an orange-colored tip, a federal standard for such fake guns even though that type of toy gun has been banned in San Francisco.

Two sergeants immediately opened fire, hitting Hoffman three times. He later died of wounds at San Francisco General Hospital.

The letter was released after permission was granted by Hoffman’s father.

“Please, don’t blame yourself,” it went on. “I used you. I took advantage of you. ... Please, take solace in knowing that the situation was out of your control. You had no other choice.”

Hours earlier, Hoffman reportedly approached other Mission District officers, responding to an unrelated call, about the kind of guns and ammunition San Francisco police use and if area officers had been involved in any shootings.

Hoffman’s note went on to describe a “sad” and “lonely” individual.

“I just want to find peace within myself. I am so sad and I am so lonely,” the letter said. “There is no place for me here. ... I am so lost and I am so hopeless. God made a mistake with me. I shouldn’t be here.”

Police Chief Suhr said he was glad Hoffman’s father allowed the note to go public, “so that everybody could gain some more understanding about what happened and why.”

“My heart goes out to everybody involved,” he said, according to the Chronicle. “It’s a tragedy all the way around. My thoughts and prayers to the officers and their families, and certainly my thoughts and prayers to the family of the deceased.”

Suhr also urged anyone else seeking to commit “suicide by cop” to seek help.

“For anybody else that’s thinking of arming themselves or using somebody else to harm themselves, please go talk to somebody and get some help,” he said. “Nothing is as bad as you think it is, and you certainly don’t want to make victims of other people. People care about people more than they really know when they get in that spot. Go talk to somebody.”

The San Francisco Police Department’s homicide unit and internal affairs division are investigating the shooting, as are the district attorney’s office and the Office of Citizen Complaints, the Chronicle reported. The shooting officers were placed on leave, which will include counseling, a standard for all officer-involved shootings in the city.

The shooting comes amid an increasingly tense environment for police and communities long considered at odds with militarized local police forces after grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City chose not to indict white officers for the killings of unarmed black men: In August, Michael Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, and Eric Garner was choked to death in July at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island.

The grand jury decisions sparked nationwide protests to highlight, among other issues, racial profiling and police brutality not only in Missouri and New York, but across the country, including two fatal shootings in Ohio - of John Crawford III and 12-year-old Tamir Rice - that involved fake, air-powered guns like the one Hoffman was carrying.

In addition, two New York City police officers were gunned down in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, leading many police officers and their backers to blame protesters - and the lukewarm support for their message shown by public officials like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio - for a dangerous, "anti-police" environment despite the longstanding antagonistic relationship between police and citizens in New York and communities nationwide.