The San Francisco District Attorney has announced that it won't be pressing charges against a police officer involved in a high-profile shooting last year which prompted the resignation of former police Chief Greg Suhr.
As CBS 5 recounts, Sergeant Justin Erb shot 29-year-old Jessica Williams in the chest last May as she tried to flee in a car. The police report said that Erb and officer Eric Eastlund were working to recover a stolen vehicle, which they found Williams sitting in on the morning of May 19, 2016, on Helena Street. Erb apparently had his pistol drawn and pointed down at the ground before they knocked on the window. Williams tried to drive away, but crashed into a nearby service vehicle. Then, she backed up to get out of the collision and tried to drive forward once more, driving directly towards Erb, who then allegedly fired one shot at Williams, killing her.
This was what the District Attorney's office focused on in their statement announcing the dropped charges, as they conclude that Erb acted in self-defense. The DA's summary reads: "All of the available evidence suggests Sergeant Erb faced a volatile and unpredictable situation looking uphill at an approaching car when he fired his gun at Williams. Here, when the relevant legal and prosecutorial ethical standards are applied, the available evidence does not support the conclusion that Sergeant Erb’s use of deadly force was objectively unreasonable." The summary also suggests, via accounts of the two officers as well as a civilian witness, that Williams could have escaped down Helena Street but appeared to deliberately aim the car toward Erb. The witness concurred, as the Chronicle notes, that she thought the driver “wanted to run the cop over."
An autopsy would later reveal that Williams, who was homeless at the time, had methamphetamine and another amphetamine in her system at the time of her death.
Williams' death quickly became part of the rallying cry of protests against SFPD police shootings hers being the third fatal officer-involved shooting involving a minority suspect in the course of six months, beginning with the December 2015 shooting of Mario Woods. As well, her death is said to be what led to Suhr's ousting, as he resigned hours after the incident occurred, at the request of Mayor Ed Lee. Suhr had spent at least a year trying to institute police reforms, but following this third fatal shooting, the pressure for him to leave grew too great.
As SF Weekly points out, Erb is just the latest officer who was cleared of charges by the District Attorney's office. They also found that the officers involved in the deaths of Giovany Contreras-Sandoval and Nicholas McWherter were legally justified in their actions.
SF Public Defender Jeff Adachi is none too pleased with the District Attorney's decision regarding Erb. In a statement to the Chronicle, he said, "I’m flabbergasted that the DA is saying it is okay to shoot at a person who appears to have been fleeing in a car. How can you justify shooting a person when you easily could have stepped out of the way?" He later went on to say that the decision "sends the wrong message to our citizens and the police."
While the DA may not be pursuing criminal charges, Williams' family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the SFPD in federal court, citing Erb's use of excessive force.