Attorney to File Civil Rights Lawsuit Against SFPD in Shooting Death of Mario Woods

A civil rights attorney plans to file a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family of 26-year-old San Francisco resident Mario Woods, who was killed last week when five San Francisco police officers responding to a reported stabbing opened fire.

Civil rights attorney John Burris said he plans to meet with Woods’ family and members of the media on Friday to disclose new medical information and video findings. He said he will be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the family. Burris’ office has called the Dec. 2, 2015 shooting of Woods an “unnecessary and tragic death at the hands of the San Francisco Police Department.” He said it is similar to the recent police shooting deaths of La Quan MacDonald and Ron Johnson in Chicago, who were both shot in the back while moving away from police.

Police have said Woods was armed with a kitchen knife at the time of the shooting and is suspected of stabbing a person earlier that day. San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr has defended the use of force, saying the video shows Woods raising the hand holding the knife toward officers. Burris maintains that officers shot Mario Woods roughly 20 times as he was trying to walk away. He said the videos show that Woods did not threaten the police before he was gunned down.

Police have not yet released information on how many rounds were fired at Woods and the San Francisco medical examiner’s office has not released how many bullets struck Woods. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and members of the community have called on the police department to alter their use of force policies to ensure that officers de-escalate conflicts.

“Mario was used as target practice by reckless and malicious San Francisco police officers,” Burris said in a statement released Thursday, adding, “the killing is an outrage and an affront to the African American community.” Burris said he has had an independent video and audio expert enhance the cellphone video footage of the shooting, which has been shared widely on social media. San Francisco police said the five officers who discharged their firearms are on administrative leave. Those officers’ names will be released within 10 days of the fatal shooting.

After Fatal Police Shooting, SFPD Use of Force Policy Under Review

A San Francisco Police Commission meeting on Wednesday, a week after five police officers fatally shot 26-year-old Mario Woods in the Bayview District, set in motion the drafting of a revised use of force policy for how officers should be trained to handle conflict and what tools they need to do so.

Wednesday’s commission meeting included a discussion of the department’s current policies, including a briefing from San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr, and indicated that the revised policy is expected to emphasize de-escalation. Many members of the public at the meeting criticized the fatal police shooting of Woods on Dec. 2, as well as other recent controversies involving the San Francisco Police Department, with numerous individuals demanding Suhr’s resignation or dismissal.

The meeting, which began around 5:30 p.m., was interrupted suddenly around 7:45 p.m. after one speaker refused to step down at the end of her allotted time in public comment. The meeting continued and commissioners and the chief discussed use of force in the department. 

Commissioner Joe Marshall on Wednesday said the scenario shown in videos posted online of the shooting, which were widely shared on social media, were very disturbing to him. At the meeting, Marshall criticized “the notion of support fire,” explaining that it should not be department policy to open fire just because other officers do. He said the commission has a responsibility to create policies that stop officers from using excessive force when conflicts arise.

“To them it looked like an execution,” Marshall said earlier this week after Mayor Ed Lee urged the Police Commission to prioritize de-escalation and minimize use of force. Marshall said among the main concerns expressed by the community include why police were using lethal weapons on a person apparently armed with only a knife, and why all five officers opened fire on Woods, who was a suspect in a stabbing earlier the same day.

Following Woods’ death, Lee and Suhr, among others, suggested that officers be equipped with Taser stun guns. The proposal has been previously brought up by Suhr and two prior police chiefs but was shelved each time over concerns by community and civil rights groups that Tasers are too dangerous, especially for people with heart problems, and are often used unnecessarily.

Suhr said at the commission meeting Wednesday that he too found the video footage of the shooting “upsetting.” Commissioners said that when a draft policy has been provided to the commission, it will be posted on its website for the public to review. A Police Commission discussion of the draft use of force policy is scheduled for Feb. 3.

(News provided Bay City News.)