Thursday morning's officer-involved shooting at the International Terminal of SFO has taken a new twist as we learn that the suspect was not brandishing two guns, as was originally described, but was in fact holding only a replica or airsoft-type pistol.
Word arrived Friday that California Attorney General Rob Bonta's office would be investigating the police shooting — something that typically would only happen under state law if the shooting victim was unarmed. As KPIX reports, the state Department of Justice has stepped in because, in fact, the suspect described as armed and agitated on Thursday morning near the BART station entrance at SFO was not armed by the state's definition, but was brandishing a replica weapon.
"We can confirm that preliminary investigation indicates that the decedent appeared to have been in possession of an airsoft gun, which is considered a replica gun," the AG's office tells KPIX in a statement.
Investigators with the state DOJ were on the scene Thursday morning, as the Mercury News reports, which is part of a statewide effort spearheaded by Bonta when he took office last year. Bonta announced last July that his office would have the final say in charges against law enforcement officers in the cases of the shooting of unarmed civilians, and that teams of investigators would be stationed around the state to respond immediately to the scene of such incidents.
"These critical incidents are never going to be easy," Bonta said at the time. "But the new tools and procedures we are announcing today are a chance to insert more transparency and more accountability into these investigations."
The move by Bonta's office had its roots in Assembly Bill 1506, which Bonta co-authored while he was in the Assembly, and which created a new division within the Department of Justice devoted to reviewing police departments' use-of-force policies, and to investigating incidents like these.
The SFPD has not commented on the revelation about the replica weapon, and the department announced Thursday that a town-hall meeting would be held on the shooting in 10 days.
It was an airport spokesperson, Doug Yakel, who put out the first statement Thursday morning about how the situation unfolded with the suspected armed man. Yakel said the man was carrying not one but two guns, and said that arriving SFPD officers "attempted to de-escalate the situation, but the suspect continued to demonstrate threatening behavior." Yakel also said the suspected "continued to advance" after non-lethal measures were used, before he was ultimately shot.
The man shot by police has not yet been publicly identified.
Questions will now arise over how police might have spent a reported 45 minutes from the time they arrived to the time of the shooting de-escalating the situation without determining if the gun was real.
A similar situation took place only a month ago in the East Bay, when San Pablo police fatally shot a man who was reportedly drunk and acting erratically and carrying an airsoft-type gun.
Bonta's office tells KPIX that following the state DOJ investigation, the case will be turned over to California Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions Section within the Criminal Law Division for independent review.