San Francisco's Public Defender is calling for better training for San Francisco Police Department officers after a local cop was caught on video beating and pepper spraying a homeless man who'd fallen asleep on the bus.
According to a press release sent by SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi's office, at 11 p.m. on February 11, SFPD officer Raymond Chu was called to Cabrillo and La Playa streets on reports of a man who was sleeping on a 5-Fulton San Francisco Municipal Transit bus that had reached the end of the line.
As you can see in the video, captured by the Muni bus video system, the officer spent nearly 30 seconds attempting to rouse the sleeping man, identified by Adachi's office as 36-year-old Bernard Warren.
When Warren finally awoke, he was "disheveled and disoriented," the PD's office says, and had "trouble standing and walking" as he exited the bus.
From the PD's office:
On his way off the bus, Warren, who has a slurred speech impediment, slowly mumbles over his shoulder to Chu, “Don’t touch me. I could beat your ass.”
Chu becomes enraged, yells “Dude, fucking what did you say?” and shoves and kicks Warren off the bus, where the homeless man staggers in the street.
As Warren walks away, Chu brandishes his police baton, yelling “We done here? We done here? Yeah, keep walking.”
Chu then pursues Warren and strikes him with the baton as Warren continues to stumble in the street.
Chu claimed in his police report that Warren approached him with clenched fists, though the video shows him turned away from the officer. Chu wrote in the report that he hit Warren in the legs five times with a baton before deploying his pepper spray.
According to Chu's report on the incident, “The baton strikes were again ineffective, and Warren was attempting to flee from the scene. I then used my department issued (pepper spray) and administered a 3 second burst to Warren’s eye area." (You can see the pepper spraying at around 2:32 in the video.)
Warren "suffered serious bruising to his legs and pain in his eyes and face," the PD's office says, and was treated by paramedics at the scene. SFPD has not responded to SFist's call for comment at publication time.
According to the PD's office, Warren, who is homeless, was arrested for threatening an executive officer, and after two weeks in SF County Jail was released. However, he still faces a jury trial, scheduled to begin on Match 6. At publication time, the SF District Attorney's office has not responded to SFist's request for comment.
“It was clear Mr. Warren could not have carried out any sort of threat. Yet he was incarcerated for over two weeks, at a cost to taxpayers of $150 a day. Now we are dealing with costly court hearings and investigations and legal filings. It is a tremendous waste of resources because an officer lost his temper,” Adachi says in the release.
Tying the February 11 incident to one in January in which an SFPD officer was caught on video attempting to dislodge a partially-paralyzed man from his wheelchair, SF Public Defender Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez says via written statement that “Both videos show a reckless and unnecessary escalation of force. In Mr. Warren’s case, there was no justification for the use of a baton or pepper spray. Officers must be trained to diffuse conflicts rather than intensify them. We should not expect these routine encounters to end in bruises and burns."
Update: Though neither the SFPD nor the SF DA's office responded to SF's requests for comment on this case, Bay City News reports that
Suhr defended the officer, saying that based on the video, the police report and the bus driver’s statements, the incident is not as shocking as Adachi would have the public believe....
Suhr said it is not uncommon for someone to be found asleep at the end of the line, but in this incident, the bus driver called for police to wake Warren up because he believed him to be threatening and possibly dangerous...
The police chief said the suspect is “clearly outside himself” and verbally threatening at the time of the incident and that Chu acted as he was trained to do so.
Suhr said all San Francisco police officers are trained on how to deal with people who are not mentally sound.
According to Suhr, the court has found sufficient evidence to hold the case over to trial and that Chu has not faced discipline for the incident.
In addition, the Ex reports that, "The District Attorney's Office said it was reviewing the case to make sure it was handled appropriately, spokesman Max Szabo said. The court has ordered Warren to prove that he is seeking mental health treatment."