The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office has decided not charge two police officers who fatally shot a man in the back more than two years ago in the Mission District. The case angered community members and added to the scrutiny the police department has been facing for the past few years.
District Attorney George Gascon’s office, in particular, has been criticized for not charging officers who have been involved in shooting incidents.
The 20-year-old Amilcar Perez Lopez was shot by officers on Feb 26, 2015. The DA’s office says the decision not to prosecute the officers came down to evidence — something Gascon has hinted at before during his interaction with Father Richard Smith. Smith has been spearheading the Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez coalition and was in regular contact with Gascon.
“Based on the facts, circumstances and applicable law in this matter, there is insufficient evidence to file any criminal charges against Officer [Eric] Reboli or Officer [Craig] Tiffe,” reads the report released Wednesday.
Furthermore, the report cites witnesses who heard officers identify themselves. This is crucial because officers who shot Perez Lopez were in plain clothes. The report also says that officers were within their rights to defend the man Perez Lopez allegedly threatened.
The decision from the DA’s office is bound to anger community members who feel that Gascon and his office have been incapable of holding police officers. The DA’s office, on the other hand, has continued to insist that the decision would come down to evidence.
The report starts with describing how Perez Lopez began chasing another man — identified as Abraham P — with a big knife.
There’s conflicting witness testimony on what started the conflict in the first place; the different versions include how Perez Lopez allegedly attacked Abraham because he had taken his cellphone or that Abraham wouldn’t sell him a bike or that Abraham wouldn’t let Perez Lopez into the building.
Although the details on what triggered the conflict aren’t clear the report cites one witness who told investigators that Perez Lopez: ““..had a serious look like, ‘I’m going to get him.’ as he chased Abraham P.
‘Statements from Police Officers’
Officers Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe were in plainclothes and traveling in an unmarked police car near 24th and Harrison Streets when they heard dispatch put out a call about two men running after one another with one of them having a knife.
According to Officer Reboli, after he spotted the two men: “He announced himself as a police officer and then immediately grabbed Abraham P. by both arms and pinned his arms together in case he was the man with the knife, referenced in the broadcast.”
The report doesn’t mention what language was used by the two men.
Reboli said he glanced over to his partner Officer Tiffe and saw him trying to take Perez-Lopez down to the ground and Perez-Lopez “violently resisting.”
Tiffe describes Perez-Lopez as being “bloodlust-crazed.” He also describes Perez-Lopez continuing to approach him with the knife despite shouting “Police, drop the knife” or “Drop the knife,” and says he discharged his firearm at Perez-Lopez to stop the threat to his life and to the lives of his partner and Abraham P.
The report concluded that version of the events retold by officers was consistent with the evidence presented. The DA’s office reached this conclusion despite differing accounts, and insists that inconsistencies in the officers’ statements do not “establish that the officers’ accounts of the critical moments that led to their decision to discharge their weapons were fabricated.”
“The officers’ accounts describing what they observed as they reached the scene are consistent with the evidence. Contrary to stories circulated in the community that the altercation had been amicably resolved and Perez-Lopez was casually walking home alone by the time the officers showed up, overwhelming evidence confirms that the knife chase was still very much in progress when Officers Tiffe and Reboli arrived,” reads the report.
The two main inconsistencies include Officer Reboli saying Perez Lopez was coming at him when he shot Perez Lopez although the Medical Examiner’s revealed that Perez Lopez was shot multiple times in the back.
A use-of-force expert cited by the DA’s office claims this could have happened because: “Reboli may have accurately recalled that Perez-Lopez was facing him when he made the decision to shoot and started the process of taking the first shot, but based on action versus reaction time, Perez-Lopez would have been able to turn 90 to 180 degrees by the time the first bullet hit him.”
The DA also stated that one of the inconsistencies about whether Perez Lopez was holding a knife at the time of the shooting was satisfied by evidence that lined up with officers’ statements.
Perez Lopez’s family has filed a civil lawsuit and claim that he was unlawfully shot by SFPD officers.