San Francisco

Protesters Demand Change After SFPD Fatally Shoot Homeless Man Holding Knife

Officers said the suspect charged at them with a knife, but witnesses share a different account.

Another deadly officer-involved shooting is sparking more concerns with the San Francisco Police Department.

Protesters took to the streets late Thursday to demand change after police fatally shot a homeless man earlier in the day in the city's Mission District. Officers said the suspect charged at them with a knife, but witnesses share a different account.

"Obviously, anytime this type of thing happens, it's no less tragic," SFPD Chief Greg Suhr said of the shooting.

The incident was the third fatal shooting of a minority suspect not carrying a gun in the last two years and the second since December. The previous two shootings along with two separate scandals involving officers exchanging homophobic and racist emails has led to several protests, calls for the chief's firing and wrongful death lawsuits.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently agreed to requests from Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee to review the department's procedures and policies. Suhr has called in outside law enforcement experts to help the department develop less lethal responses to suspects not carrying guns.

The latest incident began Thursday morning when homeless outreach workers called police to report that a man was carrying a large kitchen knife on the 400 block of Shotwell Street near 19th Street and Van Ness Avenue.

The man was found walking around with a 12-inch knife in the area and wouldn't drop it, and firing bean bags at him did not work either, Suhr said.

Police said the suspect then charged at them, which is when two officers opened fire. The officers fired a total of seven times.

The homeless man was taken to a hospital in critical condition, where he succumbed to his injuries.

But John Visor, who lives along the homeless encampment near where the shooting took place, said the suspect never charged at police. Instead, Visor claims the man was going in circles from the bean bags.

"He was just standing there going in circles," Visor said. "When he was going in circles, that's when the sergeant pulled his gun out and opened fire."

Rosalyn Barnett also said she witnessed the shooting and tells a different story from what police report. Barnett said her friend was sitting down and never lunged at officers when he was shot.

"He puts up a thing, showing them it's not a knife. It was like a cake-spreading tool," Barnett said. "They start launching bean bags at him and he started to run away."

Barnett said that is when officers fired their weapons.

The man shot by police spoke limited English and spent most of his time playing soccer in the street, according to Barnett and other witnesses.

Thursday's shooting triggered a late-night protest in the city. An angry crowd marched through the mission and gathered at the spot of the shooting.

The march followed a Justice for Mario Woods Coalition meeting, where dozens called for an end to police shootings.

The shooting is under investigation by SFPD, as well as the San Francisco District Attorney's Office. The mayor is also calling on an independent investigation with the Office of Citizen Complaints.

"Apparently this event unfolded very quickly and we'll be looking to find out why it had to go just as it did," Suhr said.

The latest police shooting once again raises the question on the department's use of force policy and the ongoing debate on whether to give officers Tasers.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association would like to see all officers armed with Tasers. But Suhr is proposing a more limited Taser program, which would only give them to officers who are specially trained.

The Associated Press and Bay City News service contributed to this report.

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