High drama unfolded Tuesday as the SF Board of Supervisors approved a settlement for a police beating victim, but the supervisors’ charged debate shows that major new battle lines are being drawn in the Recall Chesa Boudin campaign.
SFist would normally never describe an SFGovTV broadcast as riveting, powerful, or for that matter, something that makes our elected officials look thoughtful or judicious. But holy Atticus Finch on a Law & Order episode, Tuesday night’s Board of Supervisors vote to approve a $700,000 settlement that Supervisor Catherine Stefani had put the brakes on last week was truly must-see TV. You can watch the debate here, though you have to click on "211221 Settlement of Lawsuit - Dacari Spiers - $700,000" at the bottom of the right-side bar to skip to this discussion.
The supervisors ultimately approved the payout by an 8-2 vote after a wildly contentious 35-minute debate, with meaningful points made by both sides. Only Stefani and Sup. Rafael Mandelman voted against paying the settlement. Sup. Matt Haney was absent, as his sister was expecting.
Breaking: In an about-face, the Board of Supervisors late tonight approved a $700K settlement for Dacari Spiers, the Black man beaten by an SFPD officer in 2019.— Joe Eskenazi (@EskSF) February 9, 2022
That officer's criminal trial is ongoing. https://t.co/Hx2bGCP4PH
The case is believed to be the first ever charging of an SFPD officer for on-the-job assault and battery, and you can see above the condition that the suspect-slash-victim Dacari Spiers was left in. Police were responding to an October 2019 911 call alleging Spiers was engaged in domestic violence at Fisherman's Wharf. While Spiers’ girlfriend had no injuries and said there had been no attack, police ended up beating Spiers with a baton and left him with a broken wrist and leg.
Accused officer Terrance Stangel’s assault trial is underway this week, though the SFPD has publicly lodged counter-charges that DA Chesa Boudin withheld a damning interview from police (a charge the judge has already tossed out). The case has ignited an all-out war between SFPD and Boudin’s office, and the Recall Chesa Boudin crowd will surely be shouting this case from the rooftops, even though the legal system has, thus far, upheld Boudin’s decisions and rejected SFPD’s claims.
In an unusual but not unprecedented move, the board on Tuesday first went into a secret “closed session” with City Attorney David Chiu to review evidence that is not public. They emerged after about 40 minutes. While they were under orders not to disclose “any action, language, or conversation” from the closed session, we still learned some new, unreported information from their debate afterwards.
If Supervisor Stefani has designs on a DA appointment should Boudin be recalled, she knocked her audition speech out of the park in a grand slam. She mixed rhetorical highs with prosecutorial fierceness, delivering moments of choking back tears along with toughness and resolve. But she also telegraphed the mud that will be thrown at Boudin for allegedly coddling a domestic violence perpetrator, and by extension, the mud that will be thrown at Dacari Spiers too.
“It’s ugly on so many levels, and what I’ve read gives me great pause,” Stefani said early in her 10-minute address before the vote. “When I hear those two words ‘domestic violence,’ I’m not going to lie, it’s triggering.”
With a raised voice, Stefani proclaimed, “We have a DA who was saying, ‘No evidence of domestic violence! None! There is no evidence of domestic violence!’ There is evidence of domestic violence here. Tons of it. And then to call the women ‘Karens.’ Why?”
(She was referencing a Mission Local report from December 2020 wherein Boudin referred the 911 call as a “Karen call.”)
She added the revelation-or-allegation that Spiers had prior domestic violence charges. “This is a person who has been arrested for DV [domestic violence] before, who has done the same thing, put his hands around the neck of a woman,” according to Stefani. “That evidence is admissible.”
“The women who called 911 were very clear that he was choking the woman he was with,” she added. “For me, this comes down to my feeling, and my fears, about how nonchalantly the underlying domestic violence is being brushed aside.”
Yet it was Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who is in the minority of supervisors who are not attorneys by training, who showed true courtroom flair by calling a witness. He called Deputy City Attorney Meredith Osborn to testify and made short work of the debate.
“Did you then leading up to and on January 20 recommend the settlement of the civil litigation that is before us today?” Peskin asked.
Osborn responded, “The answer is yes.”
Peskin pressed, “Has anything happened in the intervening time between January 20 and today that leads you to change your settlement recommendation?”
“No,” Osborn said. “The city attorney continues to recommend the proposed settlement.”
Supervisor Dean Preston noted that the prior DA Suzy Loftus also did not pursue domestic violence charges against Spiers, with the exact same evidence available. “And there’s nothing new that has come since then that is new evidence that domestic violence occurred,” Preston said.
The many, many plot lines and agendas that this simple settlement case has spawned were summed up, with opinions for sure, by Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “Whether it's the politicization of this settlement of this lawsuit, the timing of the police chief pulling out of the [investigation agreement with the DA's Office], with people who have aspirations to run for different offices, supporting candidates for commissions who are the face against police accountability and reform, I am ashamed of what is happening in this city,” she told the board. Saying the discourse undermined reforms against police brutality, Ronen said recall supporters were “politicizing case after case for their own personal benefit, at the expense of a movement that is long overdue in this country.”
And on a lighter note, it was likely the first time we’ve heard new District 7 supervisor Myrna Melgar say “shit” as a board meeting. She added, “I don’t want to send the message to women that are in violent, oppressive situations that if you call the police, your partner will get the shit beat out of them.”
Stefani’s pointed address makes it pretty clear that “Chesa lets domestic violence perps walk free” will be a new go-to refrain in the recall campaign. And the Chronicle reported last week that police “were reopening their domestic violence investigation against Spiers,” which means his previously resolved case can be characterized as unresolved right up to the June 7 recall election.
Following the supervisors' late-night vote, Dacari Spiers will now get that large settlement payment. But he will probably also have his name invoked many times in months of hit-job ad campaigns, and the police may think they’re not finished with him yet either.
Image: Dacari Spiers’ attorneys