San Francisco District Attorney 'Weeks Away' From Decision in 18-Month-Old Police Shooting Case - NBC Bay Area
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San Francisco District Attorney 'Weeks Away' From Decision in 18-Month-Old Police Shooting Case

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    San Francisco District Attorney 'Weeks Away' From Decision in 18-Month-Old Police Shooting Case
    Chuck Coppola
    People rallied to mark the 18-month anniversary of the death of Amilcar Perez Lopez, who was shot dead by plainclothes officers. (Aug. 26, 2016)

    District Attorney George Gascon Friday said he hopes to announce a decision soon in the investigation into the 2015 police shooting of a Guatemalan man in the Mission District.

    Activists have criticized the slow pace of the investigation into the Feb. 26, 2015 death of Amilcar Perez Lopez, and held a vigil and rally to mark the 18-month anniversary of his death.

    Gascon said that the investigation has been delayed in part because some witnesses came forward a year or more after the shooting, opening up new lines of inquiry and prompting investigators to seek input from expert witnesses. He said he understood the frustration of advocates and family members.

    While community members have called on him to file charges and let a jury decide, he said he had explained to them that as a prosecutor he needed to make sure he had a case that would stand up in court.

    "I'm hopeful that we're weeks away from coming to a final conclusion," he said. "But the thing that I have made really clear is that this is one of those things where I would rather be sure that I was right than to try to go out with a conclusion that is based on partial information."

    Members of the Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez Coalition on Friday said they are calling for an investigation by state Attorney General Kamala Harris. After meeting with Gascon in July, they said they now believe he has already tentatively decided not to charge the officers — a claim he denies.

    "DA Gascon has all the evidence he needs to bring this case to trial," group member Father Richard Smith said. "So far, we're disappointed. He's shown great courage in addressing other SFPD scandals, but in this instance he seems to lack the political and moral will."

    Perez Lopez was shot and killed around 9:45 p.m. by plainclothes officers responding to a 911 call reporting a man running with a knife down Folsom Street toward 25th Street. The caller said the man was chasing another man.

    Police said the officers arrived a minute later, saw a suspect with a knife and drew their firearms, ordering him to drop the knife. They fired at the suspect a minute later.

    Activists have raised questions about whether Perez Lopez understood police commands, given the language barrier, whether he understood that the plainclothes officers were police, and whether he had already dropped the knife when he was shot.

    Smith said that two autopsies and witness reports have indicated Lopez Perez was shot in the back. Advocates have alleged that he was shot as he fled from plainclothes officers who he did not realize were police.

    Gascon said he plans to forward the results of the investigation to Harris and to the U.S. Department of Justice for review when it is completed. He noted that in addition to providing "another set of eyes," those offices have legal tools not available to him, such as civil rights investigations.

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