Open letter: 108 Bay Area attorneys call on Mayor Ed Lee for ‘truly independent investigation’ of SFPD and Chief Suhr’s role in unnecessary death of Mario Woods

The 108 Bay Area attorneys listed below addressed the following open letter, dated Jan. 14, 2016, to The Honorable Ed Lee, City Hall, Room 200, 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl, San Francisco, CA 94102.

A frame from the video seen worldwide shows police officers forming the firing squad that executed Mario Woods.
A frame from one of the videos seen worldwide shows police officers forming the firing squad that executed Mario Woods. Watch all three onlookers’ videos below.

Dear Mayor Lee:

As Bay Area attorneys on both the plaintiff and defense side of the Bar, we were deeply disturbed by the video of the killing of Mario Woods by San Francisco police officers on Dec. 2, 2015. Mr. Woods does not appear to have been a threat to the lives of the officers.

The manner in which the police killed Mr. Woods – shooting him 15 times rather than attempting to detain him – displays a callous willingness to deprive a fellow citizen of life without due process of law. We hope that the City government will respond appropriately to assure its citizens and its police force that this kind of violence will not be tolerated.

We ask that you take concrete steps to hold the appropriate parties accountable for the death of Mr. Woods and to minimize the chances of another such killing in our city.

Especially troubling has been the response of Police Chief Greg Suhr, who went on record on the day of the shooting stating that the actions of the police officers were justified. That Chief Suhr made these statements prior to a full investigation being conducted fatally taints Chief Suhr’s impartiality with respect to any investigation of this matter.

That he apparently considers the shooting to be justified even after viewing the video recordings of the incident raises grave questions about Chief Suhr’s views about the appropriate use of force by the SFPD.

We appreciate your statement that the city will conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident. However, the statements made by Chief Suhr make clear that such an investigation cannot be handled by the SFPD itself or by any institution that has close ties to the SFPD.

Two days after the killing of Mario Woods, at a Dec. 4, 2015, town hall meeting held by SFPD, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr listens to Bayview Hunters Point residents condemn his police force as occupiers and executioners. – Photo: Michael Macor, SF Chronicle
Two days after the killing of Mario Woods, at a Dec. 4, 2015, town hall meeting held by SFPD, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr listens to Bayview Hunters Point residents condemn his police force as occupiers and executioners. – Photo: Michael Macor, SF Chronicle

We call upon you to authorize a truly independent investigation by a body that is not beholden to the SFPD and including a review of the role of Chief Suhr in the handling of this incident.

We also call upon the city to initiate a review of its policies with respect to use of force by the SFPD. It is encouraging to read the news that the Police Commission has reopened the discussion on the department’s use-of-force policy for the first time since 1995.

This process must be transparent and should include input from experts within and outside the law enforcement field and other relevant stakeholders. For instance, the conduct of the officers cannot be squared with overwhelming empirical data showing that a suspect armed with a knife presents nearly zero danger to the life of a police officer when there are several officers engaged with the suspect and that each additional bullet fired significantly increases the chance of killing the suspect. (See Professor Franklin E. Zimmring, “Mario Woods’ Unnecessary Death,” San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 9, 2015).

A suspect armed with a knife presents nearly zero danger to the life of a police officer when there are several officers engaged with the suspect.

The use-of-force policies must take into account such relevant scientific data. The reported increased focus on training officers in crisis intervention techniques and deescalation tactics is encouraging, but public trust is possible only if the city is transparent regarding the extent and content of such training.

It is also clear that the city must address the related issue of the relationship between the SFPD and San Francisco’s Black community, as well as other minority communities. That police officers are in the process of receiving training in implicit racial bias is a good start. We call on the city to pursue this and other initiatives to build trust and create more positive relationships between law enforcement and the city’s diverse communities.

We will be watching the City government’s reaction carefully to see how it handles this troubling and saddening incident.

Sincerely,

Note: While attorneys’ firms or affiliations are shown, their signatures are in each individual’s personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the individual’s employer.

1 William Jhaveri-Weeks, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho

2 George Chikovani, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP

3 Jeanette Barzelay

4 Hillary Benham-Baker, Campins Benham-Baker, LLP

5 Chesa Boudin, San Francisco Public Defenders Office

6 Rebecca Brackman, Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office

7 Jane Brown, Alameda County Public Defender

8 Brian Brosnahan, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP

9 Nate Cardozo, Electronic Frontier Foundation

10 Aby Castro, GREE International

11 Mark Chavez, Chavez & Gertler LLP

12 Pilan Chenhansa, Ancestry.com

“I am Mario Woods” – Art: Miles Stryker
“I am Mario Woods” – Art: Miles Stryker

13 Gregory S. Clark

14 Kelly Corcoran

15 Gail Cornwall, Inactive

16 Linda Dardarian, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho

17 Marley Degner, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

18 Matthew Dengel, Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office; Public Defenders for Racial Justice

19 Elisabeth Derby

20 Meredith Desautels, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

21 Sharon Djemal, East Bay Community Law Center

22 Adam Dubinsky, LawRoom

23 Allison Ehlert, Ehlert Appeals

24 Demarris Evans, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

25 Yi-Fan Everett, Bryan Schwartz Law

26 Monique Farris

27 Charles Freiberg, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP

28 Stephanie Funt, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

29 Azita Ghafourpour, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

30 Byron Goldstein, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho

31 Anne Gordon

32 Cecilia Guevara Zamora

33 Irene Gutierrez

34 Adam Hansen, Nichols Kaster

35 Danielle Harris, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

36 Steven Hong

37 Phil Hwang

38 Solomon Ilona, San Francisco Public Defenders Office

39 Dana Isaac, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

40 Mark Jacobs, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Racial Justice Committee

41 Seiya Johnson, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

42 Nataniel Johnson-Gottlieb, Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office; Public Defenders for Racial Justice

43 Eliana Kaimowitz, Attorney at Law

44 James Kan, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho

45 Alycia Kellman

46 Heather Kim, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP

47 Maloof Kwixuan, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Racial Justice Committee

48 Jack Lamar Jr., San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

49 Jeff Landau, Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office; Public Defenders for Racial Justice

50 Augustin Le, U.S. Treasury Department

51 Erin Le, East Bay Community Law Center

52 Jose Lopez

53 Kathleen Lu, Fenwick & West LLP

54 Kimberly Lutes-Koths, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

55 Corynne McSherry, Electronic Frontier Foundation

56 Donald Medearis

57 Seth Meisels, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

58 Eduard Meleshinsky, Bryan Schwartz Law

59 David Moakley, Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office

60 Michael Murphy

61 Colin Murray, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

62 Sliman Nawabi, San Francisco Public Defenders Office

63 Daniel Nazer, Electronic Frontier Foundation

64 Osha Neumann, East Bay Community Law Center

65 Minh Nguyen, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP

66 Hien Ngoc Nguyen, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Racial Justice Committee

67 Rob Nolan, Carroll Burdick & McDonough LLP

68 Danielle Pierre, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP

69 Rebecca Pinger, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto

70 Pamela Price, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

71 Jennifer Redding, Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office

72 Jennifer Reisch, Equal Rights Advocates

73 Abigail Rivamonte, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

74 Grisel Ruiz, Immigration Attorney

75 Peter Rukin, Rukin Hyland Doria & Tindall

76 Kathleen Ryals, Alameda County Public Defenders Office

77 Alex Santana

78 Jaclyn Santana

79 Peter Santina, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Racial Justice Committee

80 Chad Saunders

81 Bryan Schwartz, Bryan Schwartz Law

82 Julianne Schwarz, California Civil Rights Law Group

83 Stillman Scott

84 Grant Scott, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

85 Simin Shamji, San Francisco Public Defenders Office

86 Kaylie Simon, Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office; Public Defenders for Racial Justice

87 Noah Smith

88 Ji Seon Song, Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office; Public Defenders for Racial Justice

89 Christine Start, Solano County Alternate Public Defender

90 Rebecca Stephens, Rukin Hyland Doria & Tindall

91 Jesse Stout, Greenbridge Corporate Counsel

92 Ryan Takemoto

93 Jason Tarricone, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto

94 Cottam Tatiana, San Francisco Public Defenders Office

95 Rachel Terp, Bryan Schwartz Law

96 Michael Thomas, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart P.C. ; Charles Houston Bar Association Board Member

97 Margaret Thomson, AT&T Services, Inc.

98 Erica Turcios, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

99 Francisco Ugarte, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Racial Justice Committee

100 Matthew Valdez, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

101 Nikki Vo, Keker & Van Nest LLP

102 Phong Wang, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

103 Maya Watts

104 Doug Welch, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

106 Raymond Wendell, Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho

107 Julie Wilensky, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center

108 Rebecca Young, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Racial Justice Committee

Attorneys George Chikovani and William Jhaveri-Weeks can be reached at gchikovani@gmail.com and jhaveriweeks@gmail.com.