A little more than a week after San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee called for a federal investigation into the San Francisco Police Department's caught-on-video shooting of Mario Woods, he has his answer: The Department of Justice will be launching a full review of the SFPD.
The December 2, 2015 shooting of Woods, who was fatally fired upon by five police officers after he allegedly slashed a man in the arm then refused to drop his knife, made national headlines and has sparked a series of protests across the Bay Area. On Thursday, January 21, Lee sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting an investigation into the shooting and asking for “further guidance and counsel on what we can do as a City to prevent these incidents whenever possible in the future," the Ex reported at the time.
And apparently the DoJ was all for it, as in a press release sent to media Sunday night, the federal agency says that the "Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Brian Stretch and U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Director Ronald Davis will conduct a press conference regarding the San Francisco Police Department on MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1."
According to an email sent by the mayor's office, the purpose of the presser, planned for 2 p.m., is to "announce [a] comprehensive review of policies & procedures of San Francisco Police Department." Lee and SFPD Chief Greg Suhr will also attend the event, Lee's office says.
Davis, who was named executive director of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing in 2014, was the Police Chief of East Palo Alto for eight years, following 20 years with Oakland's Police Department, according to his bio on the COPS site. You might recall his testimony in a November Senate hearing, in which he "rejected the so-called Ferguson effect that holds police aren't protecting their communities to avoid being scorned on social media."
"This is a very tough time to be a cop," the Huffington Post quoted Davis as saying in November.
"With intense scrutiny, with social media and videotaping, clearly it's adding to the stress of being a cop. But these new stresses are not an effect. They are going to be the challenges of policing in the 21st century."
Also in attendance at this afternoon's media event will be John Burris, the well-known police-battling attorney, who announced in December that he'd be filing a civil rights lawsuit against the SFPD in the Woods case.
"This can be the first step in healing the division between the minority communities and the police department," Burris said in a statement late Sunday night.
Burris spokesperson Lee Houskeeper also notes that Lee's was not the first request for Federal eyes on SFPD that the agency had received, saying that "John Burris sent a letter to the Department of Justice requesting their involvement in investigating the SF Police Department. The Mayor's letter supports his letter and the resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors."
In addition to the Supes' request for federal intervention, Suhr himself asked for DoJ review of SFPD training, policy, and procedure following a meeting with Black leaders on the Woods shooting last month.
Obviously, however, there are more issues with the SFPD than Woods' slaying. There's the reportedly law-abiding Black cyclist pulled over and detained by police, the rape survivor whose case reportedly went uninvestigated, the questions raised over the shooting of Alex Nieto, the officers who exchanged racist and homophobic tests who got off scot-free, and allegations of racial profiling and sexual assault by SFPD against Tenderloin suspects. And those are just the headlines from December and January! It's unclear, however, how wide the DoJ's scope will be, and a DoJ spokesperson declined comment on the investigation's focus Sunday night.
Conspicuous in his absence from the DoJ announcements is San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who excoriated both Lee and Suhr last week over what he said was their refusal to cooperate with his office's efforts to investigate SFPD misconduct.
In a letter sent to Lee on January 28 (you can read the whole thing here), Gascon, who was SFPD's chief from August 7, 2009, to January 9, 2011, said that he was pleased to hear that Lee had requested the DoJ's help, but that he hoped Lee's office would reconsider "its lack of support" in Gascon's efforts to reform the police department.
It is, perhaps, this letter Burris was thinking about Sunday night, when he said that "A successful investigation requires cooperation, transparency, and accountability from the police chief and political leaders."
"The investigation should be without limitations," Burris said, "and should allow for a wide open investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the policies, procedures and training and let the 'chips fall where they may.'"