San Francisco police subject of Justice Dept. review after controversial shooting

Footage released showing fatal police shooting of Mario Woods. © Ruptly
The US Department of Justice will undertake a "comprehensive review" of the San Francisco Police Department following a fatal police shooting in December of a young black man, the video footage of which contradicted the initial police account.

The review, to be announced Monday by federal and local officials, will be conducted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The Department of Justice (DOJ) agency is "responsible for advancing the practice of community policing."

The review comes following the fatal shooting on Dec. 2 of Mario Woods, 26, who was gunned down when five San Francisco police officers fired 21 bullets in the city's Bayview neighborhood. Video of the encounter shows officers confronting Woods after the young man was suspected of stabbing another man in the left bicep.

Police later claimed officers ordered Woods to drop the kitchen knife he was allegedly holding, but Woods refused. Police used pepper spray and beanbag rounds to subdue the suspect. Officers said they only resorted to their firearms when Woods moved towards an officer, yet the video also shows that Woods was struggling to walk, with his arms at his sides, as officers surrounded him. The video doesn't appear to show him holding a knife.

Woods' mother said her son suffered from mental health issues, but was making strides to work through them.

"He fought past them. He was supposed to start UPS today. He got his uniform," Gwen Woods told KGO-TV in early December.

Police Chief Greg Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee reportedly called for the DOJ to investigate following the Woods shooting, Associated Press reported. The police department has asked officers to pledge to turn in colleagues involved in racist or discriminatory behavior directed at people of color, women, and gay individuals.

"I will not tolerate hate or bigotry in our community or from my fellow officers," the seven-sentence pledge states. "I will confront intolerance and report any such conduct without question or pause."

John Burris, attorney for Woods' family, said they support the DOJ review.

“This can be the first step in healing the division between the minority communities and the Police Department,” Burris said, according to the Chronicle. “Of course, the investigation should be without limitations and should allow for a wide open investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the policies, procedures and training, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Woods' killing has sparked calls for the resignation of Suhr, who has said he's ordered the police department to alter firearms training to include more emphasis on de-escalation tactics. The department will also require officers to file use-of-force reports if a gun is pointed at a person, the Chronicle reported.

The city's Police Commission, a governing body for the police department, will soon offer a draft proposal outlining a new use-of-force policy for the department, according to reports.

Hundreds of protesters hit the city's streets this weekend to press for Suhr's resignation and murder charges for the officers involved. On Saturday, marchers took to 'Super Bowl City,' center of festivities ahead of the NFL's Super Bowl championship game, which will be held in the Bay Area on February 7.

The DOJ review also comes amid tension stemming from a series of racist and homophobic texts sent in 2012 among San Francisco police officers. The cops found to have exchanged text about ‘white power,’ the Ku Klux Klan, and ‘niggers,' have been exonerated from blame due to a statute of limitations, a court ruled in late December.

Police Sgt. Yulanda Williams, one of two black police officers mentioned in the texts, has publicly criticized the department for its response, as well as the court decision.

“For this judge to say he’s thinking of the interest of the public — is the public expected to go on with their business and pretend nothing ever happened?” Williams, president of Officers for Justice organization that represents African American and other minority police officers, said at the time. “We need to stop sweeping things under the carpet and deal with it.”

Williams now says the city's police union, the San Francisco Police Officers Association, is targeting her for speaking up, including a letter addressed to Williams and sent to more than 2,000 union officers.

“The POA is disturbed about some of your comments and acquisitions: For example, you claim that racism is ‘widespread’ within our department,” the letter said, according to the San Francisco Examiner. “The POA disagrees. While a handful of officers engaged in racist and homophobic text messaging — and were condemned for doing so by the [POA] and by me personally — there is no evidence that racism is widespread throughout the department.”

Williams said she now feels unsafe while on patrol, as she can only guess as to how her fellow officers might act if she needs support in the line of duty.

“It leaves me with a sense of uneasiness to the point that I am wondering how safe of an environment I might be in and if, when I call for backup, how fast will backup come," she said.