by Kahlil Sullivan
This is the third year without any answers to explain what happened during interactions between the SFPD on 6/6/06 and my younger brother, Asa.
I have spent the last few years coping with the loss of my brother and the affect on my family – trying to live my life, while searching for a solution to end the lies and deceit of people sworn to protect us and the public by upholding the law.
I know that all police are not corrupted, just the ones who murdered my brother and the ones who justify breaking the law in the name of saving themselves.
We all know those types of arrogant and dominant people – always wanting control of everything and everyone they come in contact with. They protect their own interests and themselves by pushing people around with their expectations, without any regard for the people and lives they destroy by “just doing part of their job.” Is it only a job?
At the beginning of this year, I was reminded of just how that last night my brother was alive may have taken place. Through the video records released by eyewitnesses with camera phones, showing the obvious murder of Oscar Grant,
I felt the fear my brother felt, through Oscar Grant. Each shot was like a thunderous clap of lighting taking more breath and blood from yet another human being and the shock of the overconfidence of a law enforcer doing what he thinks is best to secure a man lying face down, handcuffed, who was not resisting and communicating a response to the commands being yelled at him.
We will never know what really happened that night my brother was murdered, although there still stands a need for accountability and the truth.
The excuses laid out by so-called experts through the media reminded me of the repeated lies of fake stories made up, after the fact, by ordinary people in costumes, lying to cover up the truth. Why are they afraid of taking the consequences of their actions and mistakes? How can there be justice if it is blinded by events that we cannot see for ourselves? How do we really know the truth?
The fact is those involved are peace officers – who we are supposed to trust with our lives – lying and getting scared just like everyone else, their word against the guilty until proven innocent. They said that the watch commander did not get the whole story of the events that night and what was in the news was leaked to the media.
The first report was my brother had a gun, and my brother shot at them. When he shot at them, they saw a flash from his alleged gun, barely missing one of their heads, so then they returned fire and killed him, fearing they were trapped. Then the chief of police made a statement to the news that my brother took a shooting standing position with outstretched arms in a two-foot attic and the officers did what their training told them to protect them from danger.
I went into that attic myself, just as he had that night, and climbed to the area where he was last alive. I saw my brother’s blood covering the floor and walls. There were holes from bullets everywhere, in the rafters and the walls. From where he would be positioned, it looked like bullets sprayed up from the bathroom below through the ceiling into the attic. A big hole was in the attic floor over the bedroom, where they must have pulled him down.
I couldn’t help but cry while I was in that place, trying to put myself in his place to find out what happened. Then the chief herself changed the report twice and said the facts were not clear, they were just preliminary reports and he was holding a cylindrical object in his hands that the officers thought was a gun. Then the report was changed again, stating he held an eyeglass case. After 14 hours of their crime scene team investigation there with my brother’s body, they found no weapon. The chief portrayed my brother like he wanted to get shot and the officers reacted appropriately.
We did not get his remains until a week later, so the city’s medical examiner could check for gunpowder residue and do an autopsy. We were not even allowed to identify his body. The first one of my family who tried to find him at the coroner’s office was my youngest brother. He was taken to a room and interrogated about Asa for six hours, like he too committed a crime. It was not until a week and a half later we finally saw Asa at Duggan’s mortuary; we all finally saw Asa’s dead body.
During all of this, not a call from any officer or liaison or a condolence or sign of understanding or empathy; all my mother got was a pamphlet from the Victims of Violent Crimes Division downtown. When we got there, they turned us away stating that they could not help us because Asa was involved in an officer involved shooting and there was no crime committed; they do not help victims of violent police.
We thought someone tried to murder him. How were we to know he had been shot by police? We did not know anything until the media got it and the chief made her thrice retracted statements. I would like to know what law he broke or what his crime was. My brother may have had some problems in his life but who hasn’t. He definitely did not deserve to die and we should know why he did.
Soon after, I filed a wrongful death case with the Office of Citizens Complaints in the City and County of San Francisco. They said they would investigate the matter. Weeks and months went by waiting to find an outcome to their investigation, to maybe get some answers and closure to the nightmares that I have being in my brother’s place and crying out for help while being shot.
I got a letter in the mail with two check-marked boxes with words beside them stating my brother’s wrongful death was due to policy and training errors. WTF does that mean!?! They weren’t paying attention in training exercises! Oops, they didn’t read the policy to not climb up in a dark attic and shoot someone 16 times because you think you saw something dangerous. Those officers should not hide from the truth and should be held accountable.
They should be put under the lens so we can see what they really do. There are plenty of videos of deleted scenes from those “Cops” shows of them making egregious mistakes. I have heard they use that footage from the “Cops” show to train officers.
I was on Yahoo! and there were video stories of the people of the web, people who use the internet for a real purpose.
One story was about a guy that follows police and films them interacting with the public. He is from the Los Angeles chapter of the organization Copwatch. And if it were not for the people who turned in that video from the technology they held in their hands, we would not have known what happened to Oscar. He was complying with all the officer’s commands.
That is where I came to the conclusion that from all of this, all officers interacting with the citizens need to be recorded, every word and every action, whenever they deal with civilians, and it also should be made public record. Why should those officers be afraid for their own lives and freedom if they are doing their job the right way?
If every officer had an open channel of communication, recording their movements and allowing others to see, less people would die or be falsely accused. If cameras were everywhere, crimes would be solved and people saved more quickly.
My brother would not have been murdered. The facts should always be clear to see and hear for anyone who wants to know.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. For the third year on the anniversary of his death, we take time to remember my brother, Asa Benjamin Sullivan. R.I.P., Asa. We love you always.
A mother’s response
Your story about Asa was heartfelt and I am proud of you. You were brave to go up into the very attic where Asa was killed.
In all you have been through, you have been straightforward and honest with how you feel about the events of Asa’s death. You have not changed your story and truth comes from that.
You consistently put out a viable solution to end questionable police actions by suggesting all interactions be recorded on video.
As you said, Oscar Grant’s death being recorded by various cameras made a huge difference in getting Oscar’s shooter, a police officer, to the point of being charged with murder. Now there is a court trial moving towards needed answers for everyone to see.
I pray the truth will come out when our time in court for Asa comes up. At least a huge piece of the missing puzzle will be seen by us and the public.
We speak for Asa now. Asa cannot tell us in his words anymore. Your words, Kahlil, are a comfort to me.
The sadness of Asa’s shocking death is sometimes too much for me to bear. The sadness never goes away. How was he treated in his last breath? Who took care of him and treated him as the victim of the few San Francisco police officers who shot him?
The horror of Asa being shot in various parts of his body and face 16 times, with more bullets bouncing off in that tiny attic space sickens me. Kahlil, you know first hand Asa could not even stand all the way up in that small attic space.
I could only look up in the huge hole cut into the ceiling where I was told Asa’s body had to be taken out. I listened to your descriptions of what you saw. I thank you for investigating and putting yourself in the last place Asa was alive.
What was his crime, you ask? He was not guilty of a crime against any person or property. He was doing what was right for him. He had a right to be in that apartment. He had an expected right to his privacy behind closed doors as we all do.
I picture Asa enjoying his quiet evening and enjoying his time before getting startled by people he had good reason not to trust.
Asa did what came naturally to him: to get away from potential on-coming harm. In the end, Asa bravely faced the SFPD that quickly advanced towards him. Their force did not wait for a mediator or a trained police dog.
Asa was cornered, trapped and shot down, with no chance to defend himself. The SFPD force was not in any way equal to the only thing Asa had with him – just his words. That is all Asa had to defend himself with that evening: HIS WORDS.
I have asked from the very beginning, why were non-lethal training practices not used? Were there other non-lethal products “on hand” to be used instead of so much gunfire?
The answers you got, Kahlil, from the Community Police Oversight Committee tell us very little. Thank you for asking for our family. The truth still needs to come out. We need justice for Asa.
This has been a hard time leading up to today for me, as well as for yourself and your brother and sister.
Asa’s death has forever changed me. His life also had that impact. We are fortunate to have met so many of Asa’s friends and extended family who also felt Asa’s good spirit.
Kahlil Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.