SFDA RELEASES SUMMARY OF INVESTIGATION, LEGAL ANALYSIS AND CHARGING DECISIONS IN THREE OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING INCIDENTS AND AN IN-CUSTODY DEATH

 

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News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 18, 2017

Twitter: @GeorgeGascon

CONTACT:     ALEX BASTIAN (415) 553-1931         |        MAX SZABO (415) 553-9089

 

SFDA RELEASES SUMMARY OF INVESTIGATION, LEGAL ANALYSIS AND CHARGING DECISIONS IN THREE OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING INCIDENTS AND AN IN-CUSTODY DEATH

 

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office (SFDA) Independent Investigations Bureau (IIB) released the summary of investigation, legal analysis and charging decisions related to one fatal officer involved shooting (OIS), two non-fatal OIS incidents, and one in-custody death. 

The attached documents reflect SFDA’s commitment to the community that investigations and charging decisions of critical use of force incidents are conducted with transparency.  SFDA’s reviews of use of force incidents are conducted by the office’s Independent Investigations Bureau (IIB).  They focus exclusively on determining whether criminal charges relating to the officers’ conduct are warranted.  IIB’s reviews do not examine issues such as officers’ compliance with internal SFPD policies and procedures, their training or tactics, or any issues related to civil liability. These reports should not be interpreted as expressing any opinions on such non-criminal matters.

 

NON-FATAL OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING OF JASON SEYMOUR ON MAY 21, 2017

The SFDA’s Independent Investigations Bureau has completed its review of the officer-involved shooting of Jason Seymour on November 6, 2014.  In brief, on the evening of November 6, 2014, San Francisco Police Officer Eduard Ochoa (Star No. 1317) was working on a plainclothes crime suppression team with Officers David Johnson (Star No. 1002), Carlos Mustafich (Star No. 1774), and Eric Solares (Star No. 2011).  The officers were driving in an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria in a public housing neighborhood in Potrero Hill when Officer Mustafich observed two men engaged in what he believed was a narcotics transaction. After alerting the other officers, he and Officer Ochoa got out of the car and split up to approach the men. As Officer Ochoa approached the building, he saw a man later identified as Jason Seymour withdraw into an alcove, reach into the right side of his jacket, and pull out a gun. Officer Ochoa ordered Seymour to show his hands and drop the weapon. When Seymour failed to comply, Officer Ochoa fired his weapon, hitting him in the abdomen.

Seymour survived and eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge of brandishing a firearm at a police officer, thereby admitting that he “drew or exhibited” a gun in Officer Ochoa’s “immediate presence” in a “rude, threatening, or angry” manner, knowing, or having reason to know, that Officer Ochoa was a law enforcement officer executing his duties. The District Attorney, therefore, declines to pursue criminal charges against Officer Ochoa relating to his conduct in this matter because we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions were not reasonably taken in defense of himself and others.

 

IN-CUSTODY DEATH OF RAYMOND FIELDS ON JUNE 10, 2016

The SFDA’s Independent Investigations Bureau has completed its review of Raymond Fields’s June 10, 2016 death while he was in the custody of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department (SFSD).  After a thorough review of the available evidence, we have concluded that there is no allegation or evidence of any type of use of force or other criminal conduct in this matter.  The Chief Medical Examiner’s autopsy concluded that Mr. Fields died of natural causes.  

 

FATAL OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING DEATH OF JESSICA WILLIAMS ON MAY 19, 2016

SFDA’s Independent Investigations Bureau has completed its review of the officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of Jessica Williams on Helena Street in San Francisco, California at approximately 9:40 a.m., on May 19, 2016.  The SFDA’s Independent Investigations Bureau reviewed all evidence previously collected by both the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and SFDA, and also conducted its own, independent follow-up investigation.

The investigation revealed that only Sergeant Erb (Star No. 686), Officer Eric Eastlund (Star No. 1318), and Adriana M., a civilian witness, saw the incident.  The general sequence of events is largely undisputed based on their statements and the available physical evidence.  In brief, Sergeant Erb and Officer Eastlund, who were in uniform, were working a stolen vehicle recovery operation in the Bayview District when they noticed a parked Honda Accord on Helena Street that was listed on the SFPD stolen vehicle report.  When the officers knocked on the Accord’s window, Williams sat up, started the car, and sped off before crashing into a parked utility truck approximately 75 feet away. When Sergeant Erb ran to the driver’s door following that crash, Williams quickly reversed the car.  According to both officers, the Accord reversed right at Officer Eastlund, who was standing in the street behind the car. 

Sergeant Erb remained on the sidewalk next to a fence when the Accord stopped in the middle of Helena Street, paused, and according to all three witnesses drove forward in his general direction.  Stating that he feared that his life was in danger, Sergeant Erb fired one shot at Williams, killing her. Ballistics and accident reconstruction experts placed Sergeant Erb within the Honda Accord’s potential path when he fired. Expert analysis also confirmed that Williams could have turned the other direction and driven away down Helena Street, but was driving in Sergeant Erb’s general direction before the shot was fired. 

As discussed in detail in the attached report, the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting was not in self-defense.  Notably, Sergeant Erb had no legal duty to retreat under longstanding California self-defense law.  As a result, questions about whether he could have run out of the oncoming Accord’s path and found adequate cover do not alter the criminal legal analysis due to California self-defense law.

A key consideration under self-defense law is whether the use of deadly force is objectively reasonable.  All of the available evidence suggests Sergeant Erb faced a volatile and unpredictable situation looking uphill at an approaching car when he fired his gun at Williams.  Here, when the relevant legal and prosecutorial ethical standards are applied, the available evidence does not support the conclusion that Sergeant Erb’s use of deadly force was objectively unreasonable.  A potential prosecution would lack witnesses because, as detailed in the attached report, almost all of the witness statements corroborate, or could be interpreted as corroborating, Sergeant Erb’s claim of self-defense.  California self-defense law, “grants a reasonable margin within which one may err on the side of [their] own safety.”  Ross, 155 Cal. App. 4th at 1057; cf. Scott v. Heinrich (9th Cir.

1994) 39 F.3d 912-915 (“A reasonable use of deadly force encompasses a range of conduct, and the availability of a less-intrusive alternative will not render conduct unreasonable.”). 

Ultimately, insufficient evidence exists to bring criminal charges in this matter.  Accordingly, under controlling California law and the pertinent prosecutorial guidelines, the District Attorney declines to file criminal charges against Sergeant Erb in this matter.

 

NON-INJURY OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING OF RANDAL MAYKOPET ON OCTOBER 24, 2015

SFDA’s Independent Investigations Bureau has completed its review of the officer-involved shooting that occurred on Saturday, October 24, 2015, at Avenue of the Palms on Treasure Island in San Francisco, California.  In brief, on that day, Randal Maykopet stole a marked San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) vehicle and proceeded to drive recklessly on the streets of San Francisco. Maykopet hit several vehicles in San Francisco’s mainland before getting on the Bay Bridge and entering Treasure Island. While on Treasure Island, two officers attempted to set up a roadblock using their cars to block Maykopet; however, Maykopet managed to navigate around the roadblock by driving on the sidewalk. The two officers were positioned near the roadblock and fired two shots each at Maykopet as he passed the roadblock on the sidewalk. Maykopet was not injured by the gunfire. He continued to drive past the two officers and was apprehended by other SFPD officers shortly thereafter. For the reasons detailed in the attached report, the District Attorney declines to pursue criminal charges against the officers for discharging their weapons because the District Attorney cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their actions were not reasonably undertaken in defense of others.

All three reports and our letter to SFSD regarding the in-custody death are available on the SFDA website at: http://sfdistrictattorney.org/officer-involved-shooting-investigations

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