SFDA Releases Summary of Investigation, Legal Analysis and Charging Decision in Fatal Officer Involved Shooting of Amilcar Perez-Lopez

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News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 12, 2017

Twitter: @GeorgeGascon

CONTACT: Alex Bastian (415) 553-1931 | Maxwell Szabo (415) 553-9089

SFDA RELEASES SUMMARY OF INVESTIGATION, LEGAL ANALYSIS AND CHARGING DECISION IN FATAL OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING OF AMILCAR PEREZ-LOPEZ

SAN FRANCISCO — Today, District Attorney George Gascón released his charging decision in the fatal officer involved shooting (OIS) of Amilcar Perez-Lopez.  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.

“I take my responsibility in these cases incredibly seriously,” said District Attorney George Gascón.  “It is my sworn duty to follow the facts and the law, wherever that may lead.”

The complete summary of the investigation and analysis is attached here and available at www.sfdistrictattorney.org.  A synopsis of the evidence and key facts follows. 

Key evidence in this case included:

  • Statements from witnesses including:
    • The victim, “Abraham P.,” who was being chased by Perez-Lopez with a knife
    • Two roommates of Mr. Perez-Lopez
    • Officers who responded to the scene
    • The two officers who were involved in the shooting
  • Videos from three separate MUNI buses that traversed Folsom Street between 24th and 25th Streets during the relevant time period
  • Video from Philz Coffee on 24th Street
  • A ShotSpotter Recording
  • Photos of the scene
  • An SFPD Crime Scene Investigation
  • Autopsy and Toxicology Reports

In addition to a use of force expert, SFDA also retained 3D-forensic, Inc. to analyze the forensic evidence relative to time, distance, and motion in order to create an animation which compares the physical evidence with statements provided by the two officers involved in the shooting. 

On the evening of February 26, 2015, two males were involved in a knife chase down the 2800 block of Folsom Street.  The person with the knife was later identified as Amilcar Perez-Lopez.  The man being chased by Perez-Lopez was Abraham P.  While the facts that led to the knife chase are in dispute, there is no dispute that (1) Perez-Lopez was chasing Abraham P. with a large knife, (2) a witness called 911 and described one man chasing another with a knife, and (3) SFPD dispatch broadcasted a report of a person with a knife at 24th and Folsom Street chasing another man toward 25th Street.  

Several police units began responding to the scene, and plainclothes officers Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe arrived at the scene first in their unmarked car. 

Contrary to some media reports that the knife chase had already ended and that Perez-Lopez was simply walking back home alone when the officers arrived, the evidence uncovered during this investigation establishes that this was not true: the knife chase was still in progress when Officers Reboli and Tiffe arrived at the scene. 

SFDA’s exhaustive investigation and review of the evidence included extensive efforts to compare the statements of the officers with the physical evidence and other witness accounts. 

According to the officers, when they arrived they saw Perez-Lopez and Abraham P. standing on opposite sides of a parked vehicle with Abraham P. on the street side of the car and Perez-Lopez on the sidewalk.  Officer Reboli approached Abraham P. in the street, and Officer Tiffe approached Perez-Lopez on the sidewalk.  Officer Reboli had his police star clipped to his belt, and he announced himself as a police officer to Abraham P.  Officer Tiffe had his police star on a chain around his neck, and it was worn outside his jacket.  He announced himself as a police officer to Perez-Lopez as he approached and asked him to step away from the car.  

As Officer Tiffe continued to approach Perez-Lopez, he noticed that he was not moving away from the car, and not acknowledging his presence, so Officer Tiffe pointed at the star on his chest, and decided to make physical contact with him. 

As Officer Tiffe approached, the suspect raised his left hand, so Officer Tiffe grabbed Perez-Lopez’s left arm and pulled him away from the car.  Officer Tiffe then saw an object in Perez-Lopez’s right hand, so he tried to take Perez-Lopez to the ground.  As Officer Tiffe did this, Perez-Lopez suddenly lunged up at him with his right hand.  Officer Tiffe pushed Perez-Lopez away, and Perez-Lopez responded by swiping at Office Tiffe’s chest with a large knife.  Officer Tiffe then drew his firearm and yelled for Perez-Lopez to drop the knife. 

Meanwhile, Officer Reboli was in the process of walking Abraham P. from the street to the sidewalk, when he saw the struggle between Officer Tiffe and Perez-Lopez.  He let go of Abraham P, and ran to assist his partner.  From about six feet away, Officer Reboli saw Officer Tiffe lunge backwards, and saw the knife in Perez-Lopez’s hand.  He thought Officer Tiffe may have been stabbed by Perez-Lopez. 

Perez-Lopez then turned toward Officer Reboli, and began moving toward him.  Officer Reboli backed up, reached for and drew his gun, and shouted for Perez-Lopez to drop the knife.  Instead, Perez-Lopez continued to advance, making slashing motions with the knife.  Officer Reboli, fearing for his life, fearing for the life of his partner who he thought may have been stabbed, and fearing for the life of Abraham P. who he thought was in the street, opened fire.

Officer Tiffe, who saw Perez-Lopez turn with the knife raised and focus on something in the street, thought that Perez-Lopez was going after Abraham P.  At this point he also fired his weapon, one time, and saw Perez-Lopez fall to the ground. 

After a thorough investigation that included interviews with over 36 material witnesses, a review of all available video footage, ShotSpotter recordings, and extensive forensic analysis, SFDA concluded that the bulk of the officers’ statements were supported by statements of witnesses to the incident, as well as the vast majority of the physical and forensic evidence.  Only two key points were subject to dispute. 

The first is the fact that, according to the Medical Examiner, five of the six shots that struck Perez-Lopez struck him from behind.  Officer Reboli-who fired four of the five shots that struck him from behind-in contrast, stated that Perez-Lopez was coming toward him when he began to fire his weapon.  To help prosecutors understand this inconsistency, we turned to a respected use of force expert to assist in this investigation. 

According to the use of force expert, two factors explain how Perez-Lopez could have been facing Officer Reboli at the moment the officer made his decision to shoot, yet turned away from the officer when the shots were actually fired.  According to the use of force expert, this inconsistency can be reconciled by reference to studies relating to action versus reaction time and the mechanics of shooting accurately.  In effect, Officer Reboli may have accurately recalled that Perez-Lopez was facing him when he made the decision and started shooting, but based on reaction time, Perez-Lopez would have been able to turn 90 to 180 degrees by the time the bullets hit him.  The use of force expert further explained that once Officer Reboli decided to shoot, his focus would have turned to the mechanics of shooting accurately.  As a result, the shooter’s recollection of the event will be more specific as to what caused him to shoot rather than what the target was doing after the decision to shoot was made. The use of force expert concluded that Officer Reboli would not have had time to note the specific position of Perez-Lopez’s body during that firing sequence.

The second point of dispute is whether Perez-Lopez was still holding the knife or if he had already dropped it when the officers fired. 

Officer Reboli said he saw the knife in Perez-Lopez’s hand as he fired his weapon and then saw the knife fall from Perez-Lopez’ grip and watched as it came to rest in the street.  Officer Tiffe said that, after hearing the shots fired by Officer Reboli, he saw Perez-Lopez raise the knife as he took a step between the two parked cars, at which point he fired one shot to prevent Perez-Lopez from stabbing Abraham P.  However, Perez-Lopez’s two roommates both reported hearing the sound of a knife fall, with one of them placing the sound a moment before the gunfire and the other placing the sound simultaneous with the gunfire. 

After a careful analysis, the District Attorney’s Office concluded that the weight of the evidence is consistent with the officers’ statements that Perez-Lopez was still holding the knife when they discharged their firearms.  Additionally, even if the knife had been dropped “a moment” before shots were fired, the weight of the evidence would still support the officers’ reasonable belief that Perez-Lopez was still holding the knife when they fired their weapons.

First, according to Abraham P., Perez-Lopez was holding the knife over his head and headed in his direction as the shots rang out. 

Second, the location where the knife came to rest in the street is consistent with Perez-Lopez still holding the knife when the officers discharged their weapons.  If the knife had been dropped before the shots were fired, it would likely have landed either at the edge of the sidewalk, where Perez-Lopez was standing before he turned and stepped off the curb into the street, or in the street, close to the curb.  Instead, the knife landed well into the lane of traffic. 

With the vast majority of the physical evidence supporting the statements of both officers, and in the absence of evidence calling into question the credibility of their statements, each officer’s account of the incident supports the legal justification of self-defense for the use of force.  Finally, based on the evidence or the reasonable beliefthat Perez-Lopez was still in possession of the knife, the officers’ firing of their weapons was objectively reasonable in order to prevent Perez-Lopez from killing or seriously injuring Abraham P, therefore supporting the legal justification for the use of force where it is used in the defense of others. 

For officers to be charged for the shooting death of Almicar Perez-Lopez, SFDA needs proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers did not act in self-defense or in the defense of others.  Based on the facts, circumstances, and applicable law in this matter, there is insufficient evidence to file any criminal charges against Officer Reboli or Officer Tiffe. 

SFDA’s findings and investigation will be forwarded to the State Attorney General’s Office for their review.  Please go to www.sfdistrictattorney.org to view the summary of investigation and 3D animation of the forensic analysis.

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PDF iconSummary of Investigation and Legal Analysis of the Fatal Officer Involved Shooting of Amilcar Perez-Lopez

3D recreation comparing physical evidence with statements provided by the two officers involved in OIS of Almicar Perez-Lopez