The trial of San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel, the first involving an on-duty SF cop in which District Attorney Chesa Boudin has brought charges of excessive force and the first known trial of its kind in the city, began on Monday morning.
The weeks leading up to Stangel's trial were filled with media coverage of a dispute between the SFPD and the DA's Office — one which Boudin said last week was concocted for political reasons in order to direct the narrative prior to this trial. At issue is some evidence, already deemed by a judge to be redundant and irrelevant to the case, that an assistant prosecutor said she was told to leave out of a criminal complaint against the victim in this case, Dacari Spiers.
Stangel stands accused of beating Spiers unnecessarily upon approaching him and his girlfriend near Fisherman's Wharf following a report of a domestic violence incident. The defense says that the prosecutors left out evidence pertaining to one of the calls from a witness to this alleged domestic violence — though there's no dispute that this was the reason officers arrived in the area looking for Spiers.
The officers, Stangel and his partner Cuahtemoc Martinez, pulled up in a patrol car, and within seven seconds Martinez was reportedly trying to subdue Spiers — who can be heard in some unclear bodycam footage asking "What did I do wrong?" All of this was released by the SFPD in December 2020, shortly after Boudin filed the charges against Stangel.
This all happened during Fleet Week in 2019.
Prosecutors have maintained that Stangel and Martinez had no reason to arrest Spiers, and there was no violence occurring when they arrived. As the Chronicle reports from the opening arguments today, prosecutors say that Spiers was only trying to "comfort" his girlfriend and was hugging her after she had lost her wallet somewhere nearby.
Spiers was considerably larger than either of the two officers, Stangel's defense attorney Nicole Pifari argues — and the defense's case relies both on the idea that a legitimate domestic incident was taking place, and that Stangel allegedly saw Spiers shove Martinez first — or as Pifari said in court, Stangel "saw his partner getting moved around like a rag doll."
In one early description of the events, Martinez first went to grab Spiers from behind, leading to him wheeling around.
The ensuing scuffle led to Stangel employing his baton to subdue Spiers on the ground, continuing to hit him when he was on the ground, leading to a broken leg and broken wrists for Spiers. The city is poised to settle a civil rights case brought by Spiers in 2020 for $700,000.
Whether prosecutors prevail in getting a conviction against Stangel will be a major test for Boudin and his policies — and we'll likely have a verdict before Boudin himself goes up for a recall this spring. Before the recall fervor took hold around the city, Boudin was making waves by bringing these charges against Stangel, as well as manslaughter charges that he brought weeks earlier against former rookie officer Christopher Samayoa for the December 1, 2017 shooting of Keita O'Neil.
SF Police Chief Bill Scott has pushed back on the Stangel case from the beginning, saying back in December 2020, "While I steadfastly believe that officers should be held accountable when they violate the law, I feel just as strongly that there needs to be a balance in holding individuals accountable when they assault, physically attack, or unlawfully obstruct police officers in their duty to respond to public safety emergencies."
Last week, Scott officially pulled out of an agreement that his department has had with the DA's Office since 2019 that puts the DA in charge of all investigations into excessive force by police.
The DA's Office responded in a statement saying, "It is disappointing but no coincidence SFPD chose to withdraw from this agreement during the first-ever trial against of an on-duty San Francisco police officer for an unlawful beating."
Separately, Boudin commented saying that this was a situation in which the SFPD and the police union are trying to politicize a disagreement in order to pull focus away from the trial at hand.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images