SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco prosecutors said Thursday that they will not charge officers in two shooting deaths, including the killing of a black man that led to citywide protests three years ago and federally recommended police reforms.
District Attorney George Gascon declined to prosecute five officers who fired at Mario Woods, whose 2015 killing led to large demonstrations amid nationwide upheaval over police shootings of black men, and two officers who shot Luis Gongora Pat in 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Both men had knives, prosecutors said, and there is insufficient evidence that the officers did not reasonably act in defense of themselves and others.
Gascon expressed frustration over the high-profile cases that brought national attention, saying he did not believe the officers should have killed the men but he was bound by law not to press charges.
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In the Woods case, prosecutors said, cellphone videos showed the suspect was not directly threatening officers with the knife when they fired 26 rounds at him.
“To the Woods family and the Gongora family, there are not enough words that I can say that are going to bring their loved ones back,” Gascón said. “I’m very sorry they lost a son, they lost a brother, a friend, because I don’t believe that was necessary.”
The San Francisco Police Officers Association, the union representing officers, said on Twitter that its officers “value the sanctity of life above all else.”
“When force is used it must be reasonable and within the confines of the law,” the tweet said. “DA George Gascon’s investigation has drawn that conclusion.”
The killings, which happened four months apart in a city that prides itself on diversity, increased tension between the Police Department and many of the communities officers are assigned to protect, the newspaper said.
Woods, 26, was African-American, and Gongora Pat, 45, was a Mexican immigrant, and their deaths came as police killings of black men stirred racial tensions nationwide, including the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
The fatal shootings were among several in the city within a short period, leading then-Police Chief Greg Suhr to resign and San Francisco to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a review of the Police Department and its policies. The Justice Department recommended nearly 300 changes to the force.
Current Police Chief Bill Scott was hand-picked by late Mayor Ed Lee in January 2017 to oversee the reforms, rebuild community trust and institute new use-of-force policies focused on de-escalation.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco Police Department became the first in the U.S. to voluntarily agree to state oversight after the federal government ended the Obama-era Justice Department program aimed at easing community tensions.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com