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Family of Woods, Góngora Pat denounce DA’s decision to not charge officers

[su_heading size=”40″ align=”left”]NO CHARGES[/su_heading]

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The families and friends of Mario Woods and Luis Góngora Pat—two men who were killed by SFPD in 2015 and 2016, respectively—assembled a press conference on May 29 emotionally denouncing San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón’s decision not to charge the officers involved in the shootings of Woods and Góngora Pat.

“D.A. Gascón, you got to go!,” were the chants that began the press conference. The chants—orchestrated by Phelicia Jones, founder of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition—echoed the popular sentiment among the group that Gascón fails to serve people who are not police officers.

“We are here to say, you will not be reelected,” said Jones. “We need someone here who is not only going to represent law enforcement, but also represent the people—black and brown communities of San Francisco.”

According to the watchdog group People’s Police Observatory—who has tracked the 24 fatal SFPD officer-involved shootings since 2011 when Gascón became the D.A.—Gascón’s has never charged an officer involved in a fatal shooting, or even punished officers for misconduct.

Gascón announced his decision on May 24—after a month of heavy public pressure from the Justice 4 Luis group—to not charge Sgt. Nate Steger and officer Michael Mellone in the killing of Góngora Pat. In his report regarding the Woods’ shooting, Gascón cited that “we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers were not justified in acting in self-defense or defense of others.”   

The D.A.’s website lists 45 other SFPD officer-involved shooting reports dating back to July 2010. In all of the listed reports published by the Independent Investigations Bureau — which is run by the District Attorney’s office— evidence was used to justify the shootings, which led to no charges being filed against any of the officers.

Luis Góngora Pat’s brother, José Manuel Góngora Pat, was visibly upset and delivered a message to Gascón, hoping that the D.A. would do his job and reevaluate his decision.

“I am still looking for Justice for Luis,” said Jose. “Gascón has the power to charge the two policeman that killed my brother, but he decided to cover up for those murderous cops… Mr. Gascón never gave us the respect we deserve as a family of a victim of the police.”

Fighting back tears, Gwen Woods, Mario Woods’ mother, denounced the outcome of her son’s investigation and explained how Gascón’s decision made her relive the devastation she felt on Dec. 2, 2015, the day when Wood’s was killed.

“He executed him all over again… he was the best of me, he had empathy,” shouted Woods, criticizing how her son’s case was treated. “This is not an agenda for me, this is my life.”

“Why shake my head? Because you guys are ill equipped, improperly trained,” she said. “If you’re that scared of me, do not police me or my community.”

SFPD has been heavily criticized in how they respond to crisis situations, especially when concerning people of color. Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) teaches officers how to deescalate potentially non-lethal situations, like those of Woods and Góngora Pat. But SFPD doesn’t extend such training to all of its officers.

Of SFPD’s entire 2017-2018 fiscal year budget ($583,289,269), less than one percent was allocated for CIT training ($100,000), and less than half of their officers (38 percent) are CIT certified.

Both Woods and Góngora Pat were described in the investigative reports to have agitated behaviors, that according to CIT training, should have at least been considered before deciding to open fire. Both investigations also claimed that both Woods and Góngora Pat had knives, to which the police officers felt compelled to respond with multiple gun shots.

In addition, the video released of Góngora Pat’s police shooting, shows that there were no translators present, and thus, no proper communication between the suspect and officers. By the time an interpreter arrived on the scene, officers had already begun shooting.

San Francisco’s Public Defender Jeff Adachi questioned SFPD’s objectiveness in claiming self-defense.

“Is it reasonable for officers who have young man surrounded, his back against the wall, to essentially assassinate him?” Adachi asked, alluding to the Woods shooting. “How is that reasonable?”

According to Adachi, the D.A. fails to show unbiased accountability to police officers. Adachi compared the shooting of Góngora  Pat—who was undocumented—to the case of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate—also undocumented—to reveal the double standard of prosecution.

In the case of Zarate—who made national headlines in the shooting death of Kate Steinle in July 2015—there was substantial evidence that the bullet fired from the gun he was holding ricocheted off concrete before accidentally striking and killing Steinle, yet he was still prosecuted with first degree murder.

The fact that an undocumented man was charged with first degree murder despite evidence that the bullet had ricocheted was striking to Adachi.

“They [D.A.] prosecuted that [Zarate] for first degree murder, and yet they’re telling you that they can’t prosecute any of these officers, not even for a misdemeanor?” asked Adachi.

The families of other victims of fatal police shootings—such as Alex Nieto, Derrick Gaines, Idriss Stelley and Richard “Pedie” Pedro Perez—came to support the families of Woods and Gongora Pat.

Perez’s grandmother, Patricia L. Perez, said that the traumatic events have forged bonds between the families. “I think it’s because they know how it feels to have their loved ones killed unjustly, some of my own family doesn’t even understand how that feels.”

“To the families that suffer the same sorrow, I ask you what can we do together so that killer cops go to jail,” asked Góngora Pat’s brother, José. “My struggle is against the injustice we share, I understand the pain of Mrs. Woods and all of the other families present. I know that together we will find a way to get justice for our beloved relatives.”

Story by: Kelly Rodriguez Murillo