More details emerge in Mission police shooting

Video raises questions about whether officers tried to de-escalate before firing seven shots at Jamaica Hampton

We learned a lot more Tuesday night about the shooting of Jamaica Hampton – and it was, at best, disturbing.

Chief Bill Scott released at a town hall meeting a significant amount of information, including three different videos of the shooting, one from an officer’s body camera and two others from nearby surveillance cameras.

Chief Bill Scott, center, is flanked by Commander Robert O’Sullivan and Mission Station Captain Gaetano Caltagirone

The videos are here at the bottom of the page; warning, they are graphic.

Together, they show a picture of two officers chasing down at gunpoint a burglary suspect who had previously hit one of the cops with a 200-milileter Gray Goose vodka bottle. They shout at him to get on the ground as he dodges cars – and then one shoots him, at a distance of perhaps ten feet away.

Then an officer shoots him again, after he’s already down on the ground.

The crowd at the meeting at Cesar Chavez Elementary School was stunned.

Commander Robert O’Sullivan presented the police version of the events verbally, saying that two officers, Sterling Hayes and Christopher Flores, had responded to a 911 call from a woman who said a man had broken into her apartment.

The officers responded and were apparently in the apartment when another 911 call came in saying a man with a similar description had been seen trying to break into cars near Mission and 23rd.

The two officers pulled their car in front of the man, now identified as Hampton, and as Hayes opened the passenger door, Hampton hit him with the bottle.

The video shows a lot of fighting; Hayes goes down as he tries to grab his baton. Flores comes to assist. And Hampton starts to run away.

At that point, both officers draw their guns and start chasing him.

According to O’Sullivan, Hayes attempted to subdue Hampton with pepper spray, but it didn’t work. One of the videos includes audio footage; it’s not entirely clear, but Hayes appears to say that he tried to pepper spray Hampton but sprayed himself instead.

At that point, O’Sullivan told the crowd, Hampton “turned toward the officers” and Hayes discharged his weapon, firing six rounds.

Then while Hampton was on the ground, possibly trying to get up, Flores fired another round.

The body-camera footage from Flores later shows Hayes with cuts and blood on his face, holding what appears to be an ice pack.

What’s particularly stunning about the video is that the attack that left Hayes injured happened a minute or so before the two cops opened fire and left Hampton with life-threatening injuries. He is still in critical condition at SF General.

In other words, he wasn’t shot in the act of striking an officer, or even in the middle of a direct confrontation with an officer.

At the time of the shooting, the video shows, Hampton has turned toward the officers, after trying to run away from them, but is not visibly attacking anyone, and has nothing in his hands but a relatively small bottle. He is shot, it appears, well before he could possibly get close enough to either officer to be a threat to their lives.

Sup. Hillary Ronen, who represents the Mission, told me at the meeting that as far as she could tell, at no point in the entire incident is there any indication that either of the officers tried to do what the city’s lethal-force policy requires: De-escalate the situation.

Under questioning from the public, Scott said that both officers had received de-escalation training. The policy states that “officers shall, when feasible, employ de-escalation techniques to decrease the likelihood of the need to use force during an incident … Officers should, when feasible, attempt to understand and consider the possible reasons why a subject may be noncompliant or resisting arrest.”

More:

When determining the appropriate level of force, officers shall, when feasible, balance the severity of the offense committed and the level of resistance based on the totality of the circumstances … it is particularly important that officers apply proportionality and critical thinking when encountering a subject who is armed with a weapon other than a firearm.

That is exactly what was happening here.

“I didn’t see any de-escalation tactics being used,” Ronen told me.

Scott said that the investigation is ongoing, and “we don’t have an conclusions tonight.”

Under questioning, he said that a bottle, even a small bottle, “If it is used to inflict injury or death” could be legally classified as a deadly weapon.

Of the seven shots that were fired, three hit Hampton. It’s not clear where the other four rounds wound up.

Eve Greenberg, who identified herself as a close friend of Hampton, said that contrary to some early reports, he was not homeless or unemployed. He had a place to live, she said, and was working in an East Bay restaurant.

While the 911 calls described a man of “slight build,” Greenberg said Hampton was a “very muscular, well-built man” who had an abiding fear that the police might shoot him. “He was afraid of becoming a statistic,” she said.

She said it was horrifying to “see my friend looking like a scared animal with no place to run.”

Father Rick Smith, an Episcopal priest at St. John’s church in the Mission, asked Scott how far away Hampton was from the officers when he was shot. “This doesn’t look like a threat to the officers,” Smith said.

Scott said he couldn’t determine the distance at this point.

One tragedy of this, along with a long list of other dubious officer-involved shootings in the past few years, is that it has left some in the Mission afraid even to call the cops when a crime is happening.

“Don’t call the police,” several speakers said. “Don’t call those three numbers (911) because someone will get killed.”

The investigation continues.