Cops, cars, guns and death

If the SFPD can't follow its own policies, the supervisors may decide to tighten the city's laws against officers leaving firearms in vehicles

On July 1, 2015, a firearm stolen four days earlier from a Bureau of Land Management agent’s car was discharged, tragically striking and killing Kathryn Steinle. David Campos, then District 9 supervisor, quickly began drafting an ordinance intended to prevent the theft of firearms from parked vehicles by mandating how they are stored.

A .38 caliber Smith and Wesson was stolen from a cop’s car and used in a murder — but the officer has so far faced no discipline

Campos’ legislation would become Police Code Article 36B, passing in February 2016. 

Two years later, on August 15, 2017, Abel Enrique Esquivel Jr., 23, was gunned down in San Francisco’s Mission District with a revolver allegedly stolen from the personal vehicle of SFPD officer Marvin Cabuntala, a tragedy that bore many similarities to the Steinle killing. Esquivel, a San Francisco native, was said by his mother to be returning home from work when he was slain. 

So a cop left a gun in his car, and it was stolen — and so far, nothing has happened to the officer. 

Chief of Police Bill Scott said “…it would be very, very irresponsible and premature for me to say what’s going to happen with the officer until we have the facts.”  But unless the gun was in a special locked box or in the trunk of the car, the officer violated department policy.

The Campos legislation had initially specifically included the SFPD.  By January 2016 his legislation had been modified and included the provision: 

Any peace officer employed by City and County of San Francisco is exempt from the requirements of this Article provided that the officer’s employing department has a policy regulating the storage of firearms for both on and off duty conduct by the officer.

And in fact — largely because of the Campos legislation — then-Chief Greg Suhr announced a clear policy on guns in cars:

Members of the SFPD are responsible for knowing the location of firearms(s) under their care and control, and ensuring that those firearm(s) are secure at all times, whether on or off duty….

Member shall nonsecure firearms in the glove box or other similar storage facility of any vehicle.

If a member is faced with a situation that requires that a firearm be stored in an unattended vehicle for a short period of time, the firearm shall be stored in the locked trunk of the vehicle. If the vehicle design does not include a trunk, the firearm shall be stored in a locked metal container affixed to the vehicle in a location in the passenger compartment not visible from the exterior of the vehicle.

Under no circumstances shall any firearm be left unattended in a vehicle overnight.

A Chronicle story described the killing and talked about state legislation addressing guns in cars, but never mentioned the Campos bill. A follow-up story mentioned the bill, but not that the SFPD is exempt. San Francisco Examiner reported Campos’ legislation as law, but fell short of noting whether it would apply to SFPD.

And at this point, we have no idea if the police chief is going to implement that policy. Spokespersons for the SFPD have yet to release how the weapon was stored, and have stated that an internal investigation is ongoing. All we know is that Officer Marvin Cabuntala left the Smith and Wesson in his personal car — despite the fact that cops all over the city know that car break-ins are epidemic in San Francisco right now. 

“It’s kind of a mystery what went on here,” said Sup. Hillary Ronen, who worked on the bill as an aide to Campos before her election to that seat. “We still don’t know where the gun was, or for how long.”

She contrasted that with the decision of Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to quickly fire a deputy who left a gun in a rental car. The Sheriff’s Department policy is stronger than the SFPD policy, which allows guns to be locked in a trunk. Under Hennessy’s rules, guns can only be left in special metal lockboxes attached to the vehicle and out of sight. 

“She was very transparent about what happened, and she made sure her policy was followed, and she sent a strong message, and we appreciate that,” Ronen said.

But if Chief Scott doesn’t act and it’s not clear that the policy is being taken seriously, then “we may have to take another look at this legislation,” Ronen said.

14 COMMENTS

    • They are not the subject of this article. The issue her is a member of law enforcement showing careless disregard for public safety. Just like the idiot BLM agent who had a fully loaded, and cocked, pistol in a back pack under the front seat in an SUV with three children. That alone should have been grounds for him to be fired. That the gun was stolen and used in an accidental killing puts it over the top.

      • Of course not, because then we would have to address the criminal elements who go around this city breaking into cars and shooting people. That gun in the BLMs personal vehicle (he was off duty) wasn’t “cocked”, nor is there any proof of such a claim:

        Woychowski testified that he always left that gun in double-action mode. Outside court, Gonzalez said he wasn’t satisfied with his answer — and either way, no one knows what happened to the gun in the four days before the shooting (48 hills)

        He violated his own employers policy and was inattentive, absolutely. It takes more than that to get someone fired.

        I think the elements that perpetrate violence in our city are always relevant.

      • Well, the criminal elements that go around breaking into cars turns out to mostly be organized gangs, instead of the common claim that it is homeless people. And come to think of it, that does shed some light on why the gun was abandoned on the pier. As to criminals going around shooting people, we have a name for them….SFPD. Actually, it was obviously cocked. He had testified that he had fully loaded the magazine, chambered a round, removed the magazine, and put another round in the magazine, so the gun had the maximum number of bullets. Then he fudged on answering absolutely that he had uncocked the gun, saying something like that is what he normally would have done. When the gun was recovered, it was quickly determined that ONLY one bullet had been fired. That means that there was a full magazine, and no round in the chamber. If the magazine had been missing a round, it would have been possible that two shots were fired. And since it was shown, by evidence, that the gun fired as it was being picked up, it is pretty much impossible that it was not in single action mode. So, yes, the evidence is there, and you are willfully choosing to ignore it.

  1. What the hell is up with your state and city.I’ve been reading story after story of the sad state of affairs SF is in just by accidentally following up on recent murder of a reknown Dj/Community Activist.Only answer to remedying the crime is the need to vote the people out of office that allow it to continue.Its obvious no one wants to take responsibility in the police department which should have had a common sense practice forbidding firearms of personnel to be left in unattended vehicles much less off their belt.Hopefully there’ll be an epiphany to logically solving the crime/stupidity issues plaguing the state.

    • Sadly, any effort to restrict the flow of guns into the hands of criminals is met with loud cries of indignation from the Right. Even something as simple as requiring that any firearm that is left in a vehicle has to be in a secure container that is firmly attached to the vehicle, AND that the gun has to be secured with a strong trigger lock, would help reduce the problem. But better to say, you cannot leave a gun in a vehicle, even for a few moments.

      • Big difference….he is no longer employed by the sheriff’s department. It was just easier to boot his stupid ass to the curb.

      • What you mean is, the union was not able to protect him. It is kind of sad when a union defends someone who so clearly should be fired. Don’t they realize that allowing a gun to be stolen endangers them, as well as citizens? It is one thing to protect someone from a truly unfair termination. It is another to defend any and all blindly.

        My father was a foreman in a coal mine. One day, he caught a worker smoking a cigarette in the mine. This is a major violation, and he fired the man on the spot, ordering him to leave the mine immediately, The man laughed and said, “The union will have me back to work in no time.” What he didn’t know was that the shop steward was nearby, and heard the entire thing. He stepped around and told my father, “He will come to our next meeting. He will get up and say, ‘Brother miners, I was fired by the foreman, and I want my job back,’ and then, we will all stand up, and throw his sorry ass out the door, and tell him to never come back. He could have killed us all, and we totally support what you did! Thank you!”