Public defender calls for additional training for SFPD
by Tamara Barak Aparton
San Francisco – On Feb. 26, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi released video showing a San Francisco police officer striking a homeless man repeatedly with a baton and pepper spraying him after the incapacitated man objected to being pushed off a Muni bus.
The video is the second to surface this year in which an SFPD officer appears to dramatically escalate his use of force after overreacting to a minor conflict. In January, a private citizen released footage of an officer trying to dump a paralyzed man from his wheelchair.
The latest incident, which took place Feb. 11 at Cabrillo and La Playa streets near Ocean Beach, was captured on Muni surveillance.
At 11 p.m., San Francisco Police Officer Raymond Chu responded to a report of a person sleeping on a 5-Fulton bus that had reached the end of the line. The video shows Chu trying to rouse 36-year-old Bernard Warren for more than 30 seconds before Warren awakes, disheveled and disoriented.
Warren appears to have trouble standing and walking. Chu begins pushing him toward the exit. On his way off the bus, Warren, who has a slurred speech impediment, slowly mumbles over his shoulder to Chu, “Don’t touch me. I could beat your ass.”
Chu becomes enraged, yells, “Dude, fucking what did you say?” and shoves and kicks Warren off the bus; the homeless man staggers in the street.
The video is the second to surface this year in which an SFPD officer appears to dramatically escalate his use of force after overreacting to a minor conflict.
As Warren walks away, Chu brandishes his police baton, yelling: “We done here? We done here? Yeah, keep walking.”
Chu then pursues Warren and strikes him with the baton as Warren continues to stumble in the street.
Chu claimed in his police report that Warren approached him with clenched fists, though the video shows him turned away from the officer. Chu wrote in the report that he hit Warren in the legs five times with a baton before deploying his pepper spray.
“The baton strikes were again ineffective, and Warren was attempting to flee from the scene. I then used my department issued (pepper spray) and administered a 3 second burst to Warren’s eye area,” he wrote. The pepper spraying can be seen at 2:32 in the video.
Chu claimed in his police report that Warren approached him with clenched fists, though the video shows him turned away from the officer.
Warren was arrested for threatening an executive officer. After two weeks in jail, Warren was released over strenuous objections from prosecutors, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Andrea Lindsay. A jury trial is scheduled for March 6. He faces up to a year in jail if convicted.
San Francisco Public Defender Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez said the latest video, coupled with the January wheelchair incident, show that police are in urgent need of training.
“Both videos show a reckless and unnecessary escalation of force. In Mr. Warren’s case, there was no justification for the use of a baton or pepper spray. Officers must be trained to diffuse conflicts rather than intensify them. We should not expect these routine encounters to end in bruises and burns,” Gonzalez said.
Warren was treated by paramedics. He suffered serious bruising to his legs and pain in his eyes and face.
“Both videos show a reckless and unnecessary escalation of force,” Gonzalez said.
“It was clear Mr. Warren could not have carried out any sort of threat. Yet he was incarcerated for over two weeks, at a cost to taxpayers of $150 a day. Now we are dealing with costly court hearings and investigations and legal filings. It is a tremendous waste of resources because an officer lost his temper,” Adachi said.
The district attorney has refused to dismiss charges against Warren. Chu faces no discipline from police.
Tamara Barak Aparton, communications and policy assistant in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, can be reached at Tamara.Aparton@sfgov.org.