SFDA Releases Summaries of Investigation, Legal Analyses and Charging Decisions in Two In-Custody Deaths

News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón
July 11, 2018
Twitter: @GeorgeGascon
CONTACT:     ALEX BASTIAN (415) 553-1931     |        NIKESH PATEL (415) 734-3205
SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office’s (SFDA) Independent Investigations Bureau (IIB) released the summaries of investigation, legal analyses and charging decisions related to two in-custody deaths.
The attached documents reflect SFDA’s commitment to the community that officer use-of-force investigations and charging decisions are conducted with transparency.  SFDA’s reviews of in-custody deaths 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 their agency’s 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.
On March 11, 2017, SFPD officers responded to a 911 call from a restaurant on Market Street in San Francisco. The caller reported an aggressive person, later identified as Carlos Margo, who was exhibiting erratic behavior, causing property damage, and harming himself. Margo used a cue ball to strike and break glass in the restaurant, which scared the other patrons. He also poured water on his head with a jug before smashing it on the ground and using a glass shard to stab his own hand.
SFPD Officers Nicholas Buckley, Star No. 537, and Matthew Gippner, Star No. 2421, arrived at the restaurant to find patrons restraining Margo. Officers Buckley and Gippner intervened and detained Margo, who resisted their contact. Officers Hava McCarter-Ribakoff, Star No. 4187, Ana Mendoza, Star No. 1996, Anthony Gomez, Star No. 1436, Irving Garcia, Star No. 1810, and Natasha Valderrama, Star No. 2476, arrived on the scene shortly after. The officers handcuffed Margo and shackled his legs as he continued to actively resist and kick.
Medical personnel from the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) (John Groshong, Samuel Bunn, and Mark Murphy) arrived on scene to tend to Margo’s self-inflicted injuries and transport him to the hospital in an ambulance. Although Margo calmed down, Bunn administered a sedative in case he became combative again. Both SFPD officers and SFFD personnel then worked to place Margo in soft restraints. Once the soft restraints were on, officers removed his handcuffs and leg shackles and laid him onto the backboard. Soon after, Officer Gomez checked Margo’s pulse but did not find one. Officers began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as SFFD transported him to San Francisco General Hospital, where he remained on life support until he died on March 24, 2017.
The San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy and determined that Margo’s death was caused by complications of anoxic encephalopathy (brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen), which was due to “methamphetamine toxicity while under law enforcement restraint.” The Medical Examiner ruled his death an accident.
The District Attorney cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer’s conduct in restraining Margo, given his active and continued resistance and erratic behavior, was undertaken with criminal negligence– that is, “in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury.” Therefore, the District Attorney declines to file any criminal charges in this matter.
On the morning of April 3, 2015, San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers were dispatched to a San Francisco apartment in the Bayview area, in response to a 911 call about a trespasser on a resident’s balcony. SFPD officers removed the trespasser, later identified as Darnell Benson, without incident. The officers determined that Benson had a warrant and took him into custody.
During the initial processing at San Francisco’s County Jail #1, Benson became agitated and expressed suicidal ideations to jail personnel. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department (SFSD), which manages the jail, refused to admit Benson because of the potential danger he posed to himself. The SFPD officer in charge of transporting Benson was directed to take him to San Francisco General Hospital’s (SFGH) Psychiatric Emergency Services ward for possible involuntary confinement under Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.
Several SFSD deputies and an SFPD officer attempted to escort Benson, who was in restraints, for transport to SFGH. Benson, however, continued to be combative and non-compliant. Above deputies orders to stop resisting, he continued to scream, flail, and grab at their hands and fingers as they took him to the ground and hobbled his legs. After being hobbled, Benson continued to resist.
Benson calmed and was escorted out of the jail. Once outside, however, Benson resisted being seated in the patrol car. He flailed, spat, and attempted to bite one of the deputies, causing them to take him to the ground and hold him down. Medical assistance and backup were summoned. Several additional SFPD officers arrived, as did paramedics.
A paramedic injected Benson with a sedative because of his previously reported behavior and in case he became combative again. Once in the ambulance, Benson’s vital signs deteriorated. His respiratory rate slowed and eventually his heart stopped. Paramedics initiated life-saving procedures. Benson eventually regained a pulse at the hospital, but doctors determined that he had suffered a cardiac arrest and a very severe anoxic brain injury (lack of oxygen to brain). He was placed on life support and was declared deceased three days later, on April 6, 2015.
The San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) conducted an autopsy and determined that Benson’s death was caused by complications of acute methamphetamine and cocaine intoxication, not by any physical force used by the officers. The examiner ruled the manner of death an accident.
As there is no basis to charge the officers or deputies with criminal charges relating to Benson’s death, the available evidence does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt any violations of criminal law by the officers or deputies involved in this incident. Accordingly, the District Attorney declines to file any criminal charges in this matter.
Both In-Custody Death reports are available on the SFDA website at:http://sfdistrictattorney.org/officer-involved-shooting-investigations