Announcing that he would file a civil rights lawsuit against the SFPD, last week attorney John Burris released an enhanced new video showing the police shooting of 26-year old Mario Woods, a black man living in San Francisco killed on December 2nd in the Bayview by five officers. On Friday the names of those officers, who say they believed Woods to have been armed with a kitchen knife and to have matched the description of a suspect in a stabbing from earlier that day, were finally released. And court records reveal that two of them have previously faced excessive-force lawsuits with one case involving shots fired on three black men in Antioch which wounded two of them. The Examiner writes that police have identified the officers who opened fire on Woods as Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Scott Phillips, Nicholas Cuevas, and Charles August. All officers have been placed on paid administrative leave while three investigations into the shooting are ongoing.
As the Weekly and the the Chronicle also report, court records show that Cuevas was named in a federal civil rights lawsuit for shooting and wounding two black men in 2009. August has had two alleged beating cases, one from 2013 and one from 2009, settled outside of court.
“Officer Nicholas Cuevas of the Antioch Police Department tried to brutally murder three African-American men,” alleged a 2011 lawsuit against him regarding a 2009 incident in Antioch, from which Cuevas was hired to San Francisco. Authorities said they ruled the shooting to have been lawful.
In 2009, Barry White Jr., Demetrius Anderson, and Gilbert Longsworth were seemingly denied access to an Antioch club or party. Watching from his marked Antioch police cruiser, Cuevas says he saw one of them, Longsworth, flash a gun. The trio drove off and Cuevas pursued with his sirens off until they reached a cul-de-sac. The suit claims that the three men did not know Cuevas was a police officer and that he never put his sirens on, but when ordered, they put their hands in the air as their car rolled slowly forward.
Despite their hands in the air, Cuevas fired on them according to the suit, hitting White in the back of the head and ear and Longsworth in the back.
“Fearing for their lives and believing they were about to be killed in cold blood, plaintiffs and Mr. Longsworth exited the vehicle and started running,” said the suit. Cuevas allegedly shot White a second time as he ran. The third man, Anderson, was caught after a brief pursuit and allegedly beaten by officers.
Civil proceedings in the case were, however, put on hold after White was charged with killing two women in San Francisco at a jewelry store four years later in 2013. His lawyers have pointed to PTSD, noting that he still has bullet fragments in his brain from when Cuevas shot him.
In 2010, Officer August was sued by Kevin Lamar Hopkins. To break up what has been described as a "scuffle" between the shackled Hopkins and another man in shackles, August allegedly choked Hopkins and bashed his head against a wall. Hopkins says he coughed up blood. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2012.
Then, in 2013 in the Bayview neighborhood near where he would go on to shoot Mario Woods, Officer August allegedly beat another man, plaintiff David Lloyd, who was hoping to retrieve his bicycle near where police were questioning an unrelated party.
When Lloyd wouldn't leave and insisted on getting his bike, according to the suit he was beaten and suffered “a fractured left ankle, injured knee, injured back and severe bruises and scratches." He was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest, but charges against him were later dismissed by the District Attorney. the Weekly notes that a settlement in the case was reached this summer, though it has not yet been approved.
Union and state police protection rules make accusations against officers difficult to quantify, but, "It's not a rare thing, I'll tell you that," attorney John Burris told SFist. "It happens with a great deal of regularity. We're accustomed to having a lot of cases against [the SFPD]. That's a pattern that exists in San Francisco: African Americans are routinely subject to excessive force and false arrest by police officers. It's not surprising at all, because very little happens to them. Their conduct is essentially ratified by their superiors.... it's part of the police culture."
That's to blame, says Burris, for SFPD's killing of Woods. "The culture of violence within the department, the culture of not being held accountable, the culture of using excessive force and not valuing the lives of African Americans allows [officers] the ability to shoot first."
Burris is currently filing a new, amended complaint with information on the accusations against officers Cuevas and August.