A department spokesman identified Sgt. Nate Steger and officer Michael Mellone as the two officers who fired during the incident.
Sgt. Nate Steger is a 17-year-veteran of the department, according to a statement from Police Chief Greg Suhr on the seniority of officers involved in the shooting from earlier this week, and has spent much of his career assigned to the Mission District.
Officer Michael Mellone has a combined 13 years of experience in law enforcement, transferring to SFPD four years ago, according to Suhr’s statements Wednesday.
[…] Mellone may have transferred from Antioch Police Department; a Detective Michael Mellone is named in a 2011 federal lawsuit against Antioch and six of its police officers alleging excessive force, unlawful search and seizure, assault, battery, false arrest and other civil claims.
Lawful and Awful: The Death of Luis Gongora, Mission Local, April 17, 2016
The Laborers Local Union 261 on 18th Street was full of angry people last Wednesday at high noon. Six days earlier, on April 7th, Luis Demetrio Gongora Pat, a slightly built 45-year-old Yucatec Mayan, was shot and killed by San Francisco police officers after staff from the Homeless Outreach Team had summoned them to nearby Shotwell Street. Within 30 seconds after police arrived, Gongora had been shot. He died later that day. In the SFPD bulletin distributed at the meeting, such shootings are described as “lawful and awful.”
Eighth Witness Says Homeless Man Did Not Lunge at Officers in Police Shooting, Mission Local, April 15, 2016
A homeless man living in an encampment near where Luis Gongora was shot and killed by San Francisco police officers last week said Thursday that he witnessed the incident from a distance and said that he did not see Gongora lunge at the officers who shot him.
He did say that that Gongora used his knife on a tree, possibly in anger at an impending sweep of the encampment before officers arrived. Police were called to the scene after Gongora was seen “swinging a knife around in a chopping motion,” according to Police Chief Greg Suhr.
Carlos Guevara said he was “at least” twenty feet away from the scene of the shooting when he witnessed the fatal confrontation a week prior. Guevera lives in an encampment on 19th Street, around the corner from the Shotwell Street encampment where Gongora lived.
Members of the Homeless Outreach Team called the police when they saw a man, now identified as Mr. Gongora, “forcefully kicking and bouncing a basketball against cars in the area.” They proceeded to meet with other members of the homeless community, as they were about to leave they witnessed Gongora “swinging the knife around in a chopping motion,” Suhr said. Two officers arrived at the scene and, according to their statement, saw Gongora seated with a 13-inch knife in his hand “with the blade facing upwards.”
“They ordered him to out the knife down multiple times, Mr. Gongora briefly placed the knife down with his hand still on top of the handle, only to pick the knife back up again” Suhr said. An enlarged photo of the knife was placed on display.
“The first responding officer then fired four bean bag rounds in an effort to disarm him.” Suhr then said Gongora lunged at one of the officers with knife in his hand. This is when, according to Suhr, the two officers fired seven shots, six of which hit Gongora.
Suhr also added that the third officer who arrived on the scene shouted commands in Spanish, as three homeless neighbors Stephanie Grant, John Visor, and Rosalyn Barnett told the press that Gongora was a monolingual Spanish speaker who possibly did not understand police commands.
However, video obtained by the Chronicle doesn’t capture any Spanish commands. The video shows two police cars parking on the street, and as two officers walk up the sidewalk, an officer can be heard saying “Get on the ground, get on the ground.” One officer then pauses and walks slowly towards Gongora, his gun still aimed, and the other officer then joins in as a third officer walks behind them. “Get on the ground, put that down” the officer is heard saying before shots are fired. The entire incident took place in less than 30 seconds.
San Francisco police release details of homeless man’s killing as outrage grows, The Guardian, April 13, 2016
San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr told a crowd of angry community members that the officers who shot and killed a homeless man last week told investigators they feared he “was going to kill one of them or harm them with the weapon” before opening fire.
San Francisco police department (SFPD) policy allows officers to use lethal force if they have “reasonable cause to believe” that they or other people are in “imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury”.
Suhr’s statement at a “town hall” meeting is the latest attempt by the embattled police chief to explain how Luis Gongora, a 45-year-old man who lived in a tent on the street where he was killed, ended up fatally wounded within 30 seconds of three police officers arriving at the encampment.
Police brutality and homelessness collide in aftermath of San Francisco killing
The new information on the shooting did not appease the crowd, which broke out into chants of “Fire chief Suhr”. The shooting has prompted outrage and heartbreak among friends and neighbors of Gongora – who describe him as harmless and non-violent – and among San Franciscans who see the shooting as just the latest assault on the homeless and poor by a city that is increasingly unaffordable to all but the wealthy.
More than 10,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the officers to be prosecuted for Gongora’s killing.
Suhr said that the incident began when two homeless outreach workers responded to a complaint that a baby was crying in the homeless encampment. The workers did not find a baby, but they observed Gongora “forcefully kicking a basketball off parked cars”, Suhr said.
Neighbors and friends say that Gongora spent much of his days kicking a soccer ball on the street, usually against a wall.
As they were preparing to leave, Suhr said, the workers again saw Gongora carrying a knife that he was “swinging indiscriminately as he walked down the street”. The workers said that he appeared to be in an “altered mental state”.
At that point, the outreach workers decided to call the police. The workers are employed by the city’s department of public health, which is not releasing their names. One of the workers told police that this was only the fifth time she has called the police in 10 years, Suhr said. The department of emergency management has declined to release the audio of the 911 call, citing the ongoing investigation.
Suhr said that when police officers arrived minutes later, they saw Gongora “seated on the sidewalk with a large knife and the blade pointed up”.
After giving verbal orders in English and Spanish, Suhr said that Gongora “briefly put the knife down then quickly picked it up”. The officers then deployed four beanbag rounds.
“At that time, he stood up and ran at one of the officers with the knife in his hand,” Suhr said. The officers fired seven 40 caliber rounds. Suhr said preliminary medical report says that Gongora was struck six times.
Asked why police officers would deploy beanbag rounds at a man who was sitting down, Surh replied: “They tried to shoot him in the arm to get him to drop the knife.”
One of the officers who fired was a sergeant who has worked for SFPD for 17 years – the second has 13 years’ experience in law enforcement, four with SFPD. Both were white. A third officer, a Spanish speaker, arrived at the scene after the first two and did not open fire.
In interviews with the Guardian, six witnesses to the shooting have challenged Suhr’s claim that Gongora “charged” at the officers.
They include three homeless residents of the same encampment who were standing on the same side of the street as Gongora, two neighbors who saw the incident from their apartment windows across the street, and one woman who was walking on the sidewalk across the street.
On the Friday after the shooting, police commander Greg McEachern released excerpts of statements from four witnesses. Of those, three agreed that Gongora had moved toward the police officers before the shooting, the police chief said.
At the meeting, Suhr presented excerpts from the statements of 12 eyewitnesses, including the two homeless outreach workers and 10 others.
The selective release of information drew the ire of city supervisor David Campos, who attended the town hall.
“You have an ongoing investigation supposedly to find out what happened in this incident, and yet you’ve had a number of press conferences where you are already prejudging what happened,” he said. “I ask the police commission and the mayor to direct the police department to stop trying the case in the public.”
Sixth witness disputes police account of homeless man’s killing in San Francisco, The Guardian, April 12, 2016
Christine Pepin, a 45-year-old resident of Sunnyvale, is the latest witness to challenge the police narrative that Luis Gongora was armed and dangerous.
Pepin can be seen in a surveillance video that captures a partial view of the shooting. The footage, obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, shows a woman walking on the sidewalk across the street from where two police officers approached and shot Gongora. As the gunfire erupted, the woman ducked and ran down the sidewalk, away from the shooting.
“He was sitting on the ground, his back against the wall,” Pepin said about Gongora. “He seemed to be holding something in his left hand, but I didn’t see a knife. He didn’t seem aggressive. He seemed kind of lost and confused.
“His head was against the building, sitting down, and his knees were bent, like in a relaxed manner,” she added.
Pepin said that the officers were approximately seven to 10 meters from Gongora, and that no one else was close to him: “He was pretty much isolated. He was alone.”
She said she then saw an officer aim a “big black and orange” gun at Gongora, and heard the officer tell Gongora to stay on the ground.
“I was shocked by this because it seemed to me that the person was harmless,” Pepin said. “The officers started shooting, and I thought, ‘This must not be real ammunition,’ I thought, ‘because why would they do that?’”
Pepin started to run away, and her view was blocked by a parked car, so she did not see what happened next.
Like S Smith Patrick, another witness who has challenged the police narrative of the shooting, Pepin said that she had assumed Gongora had threatened the police officers in a separate incident. After watching the surveillance video, however, she said she realized that she had witnessed the beginning of the encounter.
“It didn’t seem that he was posing a threat to anyone. He looked lost. He didn’t look aggressive,” she said. “I don’t see how a man, even with a knife in his hands – which I didn’t see – how he could pose a threat to three officers with fully loaded weapons. That is really what shocked me.”
Pepin is the sixth witness to tell the Guardian that Gongora was not posing a threat.
…Barnett agreed that Gongora was sitting on the ground when police first approached, and said that the knife was sitting on the ground beside him.
“He was already sitting on the ground. He wasn’t touching the knife,” she said. “They start launching the beanbags. He’s sitting down the whole time. They didn’t tell him to put his hands on his head, behind his back, none of that.”
Barnett said that after Gongora was hit with beanbags, he stood up and tried to run away.
“He was running away. He wasn’t running toward them,” she said. “He wasn’t that kind of person.”
Harassment and Backdoor Maneuvers Alleged in Aftermath of Police Shooting, Mission Local, April 11, 2016
Six witnesses have contradicted the police account and say Gongora did not lunge at officers with a knife. Three homeless residents of his encampment said the monolingual Spanish speaker did not understand the police commands and attempted to run away after being hit with the bean bag rounds.
Three other witnesses also said they did not see Gongora lunge at officers. One — a passer-by who spoke with Mission Local last week — said that Gongora had what looked like trash in his hand and that she never saw Gongora stand up.
Two neighbors who saw the shooting from their windows across the street said that Gongora stood up when shot by beanbag rounds but did not threaten officers.
The police department held a press conference on Friday and said at least three of 10 witnesses interviewed say Gongora threatened officers with a knife.
Police did not say what the other witness accounts stated, but are sure to speak more at an upcoming town hall — a meeting the department holds within seven days of any police shooting. Police have not yet decided on the date of that meeting.
Two Late-Night Visits in a Row
Homeless residents of the block have been fearful of police retaliation. Department of Public Works trucks picked up trash from the block on Friday near midnight just after city staff had moved nine people from the encampment to the Navigation Center — a homeless shelter that can accommodate entire encampments at once.
But residents of the encampment were suspicious of the timing, saying the city was scattering witnesses to the shooting.
On Saturday, Grant and Visor said police threatened them with arrest after banging on their tent with batons, prompting them to move their tent a block down from their spot near where Gongora was killed.
“They told us that if we didn’t move we were going to go to jail,” Grant said.
Harrowing Surveillance Video Shows Scene Of Latest SFPD Officer-Involved Shooting, KCBS, April 8, 2016
New surveillance video released by an anonymous source Friday shows San Francisco police officers as they approach a homeless man allegedly armed with a knife just before he was fatally shot off camera Thursday.
A shooting by police officers of a homeless man camping on Shotwell Street near 18th Street occurred in the Mission Thursday, April 7. On Friday, the Medical Examiner identified the victim as 45-year-old Luis Gongora, a San Francisco resident. While we do not have complete information, reports from eyewitnesses raise several red flags:
1.The victim was non-English speaking and likely did not understand police commands.
2.The man was camping in a tent on Shotwell and likely has been the victim of the numerous “sweeps” that have taken place in the general area. Division Street was the most well known, but sweeps and citing of homeless people surrounding Division have taken place regularly since.
3.The man may have been in possession of a knife, but eyewitnesses have contradicted this statement.
4.Eyewitnesses report he was lying down and not resisting when shot.
This shooting happened less than 24 hours after a late-night Police Commission meeting at which members of the Police Officers Association (POA) fought against changes to the Department General Order (DGO) concerning use of force.
The POA has called for a policy worse than the status quo: They have pushed to bring language back two decades, before the old policy was updated. This conservatism fails to recognize the deep problems inside SFPD that have surfaced in recent years.
The only changes they recommend are additional weapons. At last night’s meeting, members of the public predicted that more police shootings would take place unless systemic change occurred.
On top of the need for language accessibility and halting the criminalization of homeless people, there were five things the Coalition on Homelessness called for in the new DGO last night…