A man who died in police custody in San Francisco's Marina District Thursday morning after allegedly fleeing a crash was being sought in connection with a brutal attack on a 97-year-old man in the Graton area of Sonoma County, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
Filimoni Raiyawa, 57, was wanted by the sheriff's office in connection with an assault reported around 5 a.m. at a home in the 13000 block of Dupont Road in Sonoma County.
Officers responded around 5:30 a.m. to a call in San Francisco of a fight over a collision that occurred at Richardson Avenue and Francisco Street. While en route, the officers learned that one of the drivers involved in the crash had fled the scene on foot, according to police.
The driver of the other vehicle told police he saw the driver who fled looking “transfixed” and saying “something about God’s will” before the man walked away from the scene of the crash.
Officers were eventually able to find Raiyawa in the area of Lombard and Pierce streets. The suspect fought officers as they tried to take him into custody, injuring two female officers in the process, police said.
“He struck one of the officers several times about the head and shoulders, beating her to the ground nearly unconscious,” San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said, adding the suspect threw the other office “aside with such force that she damaged her knees and legs.”
The suspect, who police described as a black man in his mid-50s, was eventually taken into custody but stopped breathing. Officers immediately performed CPR, but the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death has not been determined, police said.
The two officers were taken to a hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening, fire officials said.
Almost as soon as the story broke, comments began showing up on social media, some with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. But Chief Suhr said he doesn’t see this as a case of racial profiling or excessive force.
“I don’t think this was a case where this person was taken on because of his race,” Suhr said. “He just happened to be dark complected.”
Because the man was obese and reportedly handcuffed lying face down, there are questions about what’s known as compressional asphyxiation, where the weight of an obese person on their stomach can make it hard for them to breathe. But those questions will have to wait for the medical examiner’s report.
Prince Tenefrancia, a server at the nearby IHOP restaurant at 2299 Lombard St., said he didn't hear any gunshots during the incident, but saw emergency responders "trying to do CPR for a while" on the man who later died.
The entire block of Lombard Street was blocked off Thursday morning and employees at IHOP were asked to stay inside during the investigation, Tenefrancia said.
Bay City News contributed to this report.