Lawyers and civil rights activists today questioned San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon’s decision not to charge two plainclothes police officers who shot and killed a Guatemalan in a confrontation in the Mission District two years ago.
It’s taken Gascon more than two years to decide whether to charge officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli for shooting 21-year-old Amilcar Perez-Lopez on Feb. 26, 2015. Gascon announced his decision and released a 27-page report on Wednesday.
Activists who gathered outside the Hall of Justice this afternoon said Gascon, a former San Francisco police chief, was biased toward the officers. “To me it absolutely screams cover up,” civil rights attorney Ben Rosenfeld said of Gascon’s report. He said it goes through “mental gymnastics” to explain why Perez was shot in the back, leaves questions open about the chronology and takes the officers’ word that they properly identified themselves. The officers made no attempt to de-escalate the situation before shooting Perez-Lopez and instead physically confronted him, he said.
According to the police account, Perez-Lopez was shot and killed at about 9:45 p.m. after Tiffe and Reboli responded to a report of a man running down Folsom Street with a knife, chasing another man. Police said the officers arrived a minute later and saw Perez-Lopez, armed with a knife, and the victim standing on opposite sides of a parked car. The officers identified themselves and ordered Perez-Lopez away from the car. Tiffe then approached Perez-Lopez, who then allegedly lunged at the officers. They both opened fire.
Regarding the shots to Perez-Lopez’s back, Gascon said that outside experts reviewed the evidence and said it appeared that Perez-Lopez may have been facing officers at the time that they initiated fire but turned as he was struck by gunfire. Rebecca Young from the city public defender’s office questioned the credibility of Gascon’s approach to police reform, pointing to his police independent investigations bureau that received $1.5 million in city funding. “It is the fox guarding the henhouse. Taxpayers are being ripped off,” she said. Father Richard Smith of St. John’s Episcopal Church, a member of the Justice for Amilcar Perez-Lopez Coalition, recalled that it was good Friday, “when a young man was executed by the state.” Gascon’s decision, he said, “now leaves a family in tears in Guatemala.”
“The DA needs to bring this case to court,” where evidence from both sides can be examined, Smith said. “Instead of taking this case to court the DA has made himself judge and jury.” Christina Gutierrez, an organizer who was part of a hunger strike last year outside the Mission police station, said that Gascon has betrayed Perez-Lopez and his family. “Why is it that we the poor always follow the law but [the police] don’t follow the law,” she said. Smith said his coalition has requested a town hall meeting with Gascon, but haven’t heard back yet.
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