Deliberations began Tuesday in the historic trial of SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel, who is charged with excessive use of force in a 2019 beating of a domestic violence suspect who was subsequently not charged with any crime.
Mission Local has had a reporter in the court for the last three weeks of this trial, which is being watched across the nation for its significance in the ongoing national debate over the police and their occasional abuse of power. This is not as dramatic a case as the trials of Minneapolis officers implicated in the killing of George Floyd two years ago, and the victim at the center of it did not lose his life. But it's nonetheless of a first-of-its-kind trial of a San Francisco police officer for the use of excessive force in subduing and detaining a suspect.
Closing arguments reportedly included, on the prosecution side, an impassioned plea to examine the evidence of Stangel's and other officers' behavior toward the man they believed was perpetrating acts of domestic violence against his girlfriend, Dacari Spiers.
"It’s common knowledge that tall dark Black men are often associated with menace," said Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Young in closing arguments, per Mission Local. And, Young argued, neither Stangel nor his partner recognized Dacari Spiers as a human being who deserved acknowledgement."
Young reportedly showed jurors video that showed how another officer, Gonee Sepulveda, went to take the arm of Spiers's girlfriend, Breonna Richard, and Richard yanked her arm away — "resisting" in a similar way to how Spiers was resisting the officers who beat him. (Richard testified earlier that Spiers was not abusive toward her, and that she absolutely would have told the arriving officers if he had been laying hands on her.)
And Young reiterated an earlier point about when the use of force is justified, according to the police department's code, saying that while Spiers may have been resisting, he was not doing so in an "assaultive" manner, as the code requires.
Stangel's attorney, Nicole Pifari, made the case to jurors in her closing argument that none of the prosecution's witnesses are to be believed — essentially that everyone, including an expert witness who is a retired LA cop, is lying or incompetent.
"Let’s just cut to the chase, you cannot believe anything they told you," Pifari reportedly said, per Mission Local.
And, Pifari argued, her client is being prosecuted "for being a human being” acting in the face of a “chaotic situation.”
Last week, Stangel testified in his own defense that he "believed every single baton strike at the time was necessary." And he said that he saw Spiers at the time as behaving like "a pissed-off NFL player" toward his partner, which is why he intervened with the baton.
Stangel could face as many as seven years in prison for the baton beating of Spiers, which left Spiers with a broken leg, among other injuries. The city separately plans to pay out a $700,000 settlement to Spiers in a civil case.
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