SAN FRANCISCO – A largely hostile crowd in San Francisco called for the dismissal of the city’s police chief following the fatal shooting of a homeless Latino man.
Police Chief Greg Suhr told about 200 people at a public meeting Wednesday – many of whom chanted for his dismissal – that he has no plans to resign as his department investigates the April 7 encounter that left Luis Gongora dead.
He said the investigation, which is in its early stages, has been made more difficult by several conflicting witness accounts which include whether Gongora was holding a knife and if the responding officers tried to speak to him in both Spanish and English.
San Francisco police have been trying to repair the department’s image battered by the discovery of racist text messages exchanged by offices and two recent fatal shootings of minority suspects.
The encounter with Gongora began with two city outreach workers responding to reports of a crying baby at a homeless encampment in the city’s Mission District neighborhood where he lived, Suhr said. The workers didn’t find a baby, but reported that they saw a Latino man aggressively kicking a soccer ball against parked cars.
One of the workers called 911 to report a Latino man appeared to be in an “altered state” and was waving a knife.
A surveillance video captures three uniformed officers arriving, walking off screen and commanding in English for Gongora to drop to the ground. About 30 seconds later, the sound of a bean bag gun being cocked and fired can be heard immediately followed by seven gunshots.
Suhr said officers and witnesses reported that Gongora was sitting against a wall and lunged at officers with the knife when they approached. The officers said they spoke commands in both English and Spanish.
Two other witnesses reported that Gongora had the knife in his waistband when he was shot. They also said police spoke only in English when they warned Gongora to drop the knife.
Suhr said Gongora was struck by four bean bags and two bullets. He added both officers who hit Gongora are white. The San Francisco medical examiner has not released any more details.
Matt Castro, 40, said he met Gongora 13 years ago when they worked in a San Francisco restaurant together. Castro, who attended the town hall meeting to protest the shooting, said Gongora has a wife and three children in Mexico.
"He was so docile and nice," Castro said. "This didn't need to happen."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.