SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A report by the San Francisco district attorney’s office into the fatal police shooting of a man wielding a knife, which led to protests at City Hall and the Hall of Justice, has exonerated the two officers involved in the shooting.
Amilcar Perez-Lopez was shot six times by plainclothes police officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli on Feb. 26, 2015 in the city’s Mission District.
Following the shooting, then police Chief Greg Suhr said the 20-year-old Guatemalan immigrant charged at the officers with the knife over his head and that officers shot him from the front.
An independent investigation and autopsy conducted by Perez-Lopez’s family, however, determined he had been shot at from behind.
The report from District Attorney George Gascón concluded that Perez-Lopez was lunging at one the officers with the knife when the first shot was fired, and was in the process of turning away as the other shots were fired, with all six shots fired in approximately two seconds.
Gascón’s office also provided an animation recreation of the shooting, based on the forensic evidence.
Gascón said Wednesday an evaluation of forensic evidence, surveillance videos, two autopsy reports and witness statements, as well as reports from outside experts who were asked to examine the evidence, supported the officers’ account of what happened.
“The law gives significant deference to officers in situations in which they have to make split second decisions,” Gascon said Wednesday at a press conference.
“For officers to be charged in the death of Mr. Perez-Lopez, we would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers did not act in self defense or in the defense of others,” Gascón said. “There is insufficient evidence for charges to be filed against officers Reboli or Tiffe.”
A ballistics expert consulted was quoted in the report as saying, “Once the decision to shoot is made, the shooter’s focus is on shooting the weapon effectively rather than on the specific actions of the individual … [the officer] would not have had time to note the specific position of Perez-Lopez’s body during that firing sequence.”
In addition, Gascon noted, the law would still find the officers justified in opening fire if Perez-Lopez was turned away from them because they believed the man Perez-Lopez was fighting with was at risk.
Police had responded to the area of Folsom Street and 25th Street to report a confrontation in which Perez-Lopez was chasing another man while holding a knife.
Tiffe and Reboli were placed on administrative leave following the shooting.
Community members disputed the police version of events that led up to Perez-Lopez’s death, rejecting a police allegation that Perez-Lopez was trying to steal a bicycle at the time of the shooting.
Attorney Arnoldo Casillas, who is representing Perez-Lopez’ family, Wednesday said the decision came as no surprise as “prosecutors will make every effort to give the officers the benefit of every doubt.”
Casillas said the inconsistencies in the officers’ statements are “deep and meaningful,” and would have led to a prosecution in a case that did not involve police officers.
“Here, because the killers were police officers, Mr. Gascón has shied away from his duty to do justice,” Casillas said. “It is a shame that the District Attorney would not carry out his duty to impartially apply the law.”
San Francisco Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran said the decision made it clear the officers were not guilty of any crime, but that the incident was still “tragic for everyone involved.”
“We cannot let this pain be a wedge between us,” Halloran said in a statement. “Instead it should motivate us to work together as a community to prevent future tragedies from taking place.”
A statement from a San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman said, “The District Attorney’s Office bears the responsibility of reviewing evidence and determining if there are charges to be filed in such investigations. We respect the District Attorney’s decision and thank his office for its work on this investigation.”
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