Rhetoric vs. reality: SFPD’s investment in police brutality

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by Jeremy Miller

The day was balmy but chilled, slightly windy but still. The street was bustling but with people that were displaced, tourists perhaps or residents bewildered. We were all pulled in the same direction towards an artificial city.

A fellow protester moves to protect Deja Caldwell after Officer Joshua Cabillo shoved her. He was part of the wall of cops barring Justice for Mario Woods marchers from entering Super Bowl City
A fellow protester moves to protect Deja Caldwell after Officer Joshua Cabillo shoved her. He was part of the wall of cops barring Justice for Mario Woods marchers from entering Super Bowl City. – Photo: Paul Chinn, SF Chronicle

Sometime around midday a small crowd of about 50 souls, all ages, genders and races, crowded the main street marching towards the artificial city flanked on all sides by nearly three times our number in police. These were not just uniformed cops but overtime-paid “urban warriors,” complete with riot helmets, CPC vests, batons, service firearms, bean bag guns, assault rifles and god knows what else.

From behind, a disembodied voice (no one turned to look) identifying herself as police repeatedly declared that this was an unlawful march and if we did not return to the sidewalk or disperse immediately, we would be subject to arrest. Finally, a riot line was set up when we arrived within a couple blocks of the artificial city.

Our real grievances might have been enough truth to make the artificial city vanish – and the money people couldn’t have that happen. The mayor had made them a promise. They and their people would be protected.

With hand-me-down military spec, scowls and a cynical disregard for the marchers, these paramilitaries with stars were ready for anything. They were completely equipped for killers.

Does this sound like a scene from a dystopic novel or movie? That is how it felt being there. Unfortunately, for those of us who live here, it is all too real. The street: Market Street. The city: San Francisco. The time: eight days before Super Bowl.

With hand-me-down military spec, scowls and a cynical disregard for the marchers, these paramilitaries with stars were ready for anything. They were completely equipped for killers.

At the San Francisco Police Commission meeting of Feb. 10, 2016, Police Chief Greg Suhr, describing this and other confrontations resulting from the Dec. 2 lynching of Mario Woods as well as the imposition of virtual martial law due to San Francisco’s hosting of Super Bowl 50, bragged to the cameras: “We worked with the demonstrations to facilitate so that people could be heard.”

This permissive language was handed down at the same time as new draft General Orders employing the same subterfuge. The revised Use of Force policy (DGO 5.01) begins: “The San Francisco Police Department’s highest priority is safeguarding the sanctity of all human life. Officers shall demonstrate this principle in their daily interactions with the community they are sworn to serve. The Department is committed to using thoughtful communication, and de-escalation principles before resorting to the use of force, whenever practical.”

The idea is to stage a public relations coup and expose that, after all, the whole problem (with police terror) is a lack of clarification about orders and a few bad cops, RIGHT?

Police Chief Greg Suhr, describing confrontations resulting from the Dec. 2 lynching of Mario Woods as well as the imposition of virtual martial law due to San Francisco’s hosting of Super Bowl 50, bragged to the cameras: “We worked with the demonstrations to facilitate so that people could be heard.”

“Occasionally words must serve to veil the facts. But let this happen in such a way that no one becomes aware of it; or, if it should be noticed, excuses must be at hand to be produced immediately,” said Niccolo Machiavelli.

So let us look at the facts: For 14 weeks – that Police Commission meeting was Week 12 – there have been consistent protests over the police killing of Mario Woods. In fact, the demonstration described at the outset of this article was called by the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition and reiterated their three demands: the firing of Chief Greg Suhr; charging the officers – Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Charles August, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips – with murder for the shooting death of Woods; and an independent investigation.

At the time of this writing, none of the three demands has been complied with by authorities having jurisdiction. Going back to the question of what the SFPD does and does not permit may help us understand why.

As an active participant in the majority of these public protest actions, I can attest to the fact that the SFPD has been more lenient than normal in terms of prosecuting arrests. But people should not be deceived by this observation. In fact, there still have been several illegitimate arrests, but what has been more common is rank and file provocation.

Multiple protesters have been physically assaulted by officers bristling at the criticism of their department. One such assault occurred on Jan. 30, 2016, during the march towards Super Bowl City. The person assaulted was Deja Caldwell, a strong young woman who dared to voice opposition to police violence. In her own words:

“What is the real role of SFPD? To serve and protect? I’ve experienced otherwise. On the weekend before Super Bowl 50 in downtown San Francisco, Officer Joshua Cabillo aggressively put his hands on me. It was a peaceful protest and I sensed the hatred in his eyes.

“I ask myself this question: Who do you call on the police when the police are harming you instead of protecting you? I don’t feel like Cabillo is fit to ‘protect and serve’ our community. The power given to him was placed in the wrong hands and he must be stopped.”

Multiple protesters have been physically assaulted by officers bristling at the criticism of their department.

Deja is physically uninjured by the assault, but the event of it at a non-violent protest against police terror raises concerns and questions about current police rhetoric. What happened to “thoughtful communication, and de-escalation principles?” Who is Officer Joshua Cabillo anyway?

As it turns out, we know exactly who Officer Cabillo is. To add insult to injury, not only did Officer Cabillo unnecessarily assault a woman who was protesting police killing, but in fact he is a killer cop himself from a different department!

On June 5, 2012, while working as a South San Francisco police officer, Joshua Cabillo brutalized, restrained and eventually shot to death 15-year-old Derrick Gaines, who had just been hanging out with friends after going to MacDonalds. It was the beginning of summer vacation. Derrick had just attempted to call his great aunt to pick him up.

“On the weekend before Super Bowl 50 in downtown San Francisco, Officer Joshua Cabillo aggressively put his hands on me. It was a peaceful protest and I sensed the hatred in his eyes,” says protester Deja Caldwell. Not only did Officer Cabillo unnecessarily assault a woman who was protesting police killing, but in fact he is a killer cop himself from a different department! On June 5, 2012, while working as a South San Francisco police officer, Joshua Cabillo brutalized, restrained and eventually shot to death 15-year-old Derrick Gaines. We know that Officer Cabillo is a child killer with a long record of abuse, yet SFPD hired him.

Derrick was then subjected to a scenario that many young Black and Brown boys and men are. He was profiled by the police. He got scared. Remember, he was only 15 YEARS OLD! In his great aunt Dolores Piper’s words, as originally reported in Worker’s World:

“Derrick backed off and started to run. The police officer, Joshua Cabillo, hit Derrick on the head with his gun; then they struggled on the ground. Derrick was carrying an old gun, which didn’t have a firing pin. It was an old collector-type gun and not visible inside his clothing. It skidded out to the side, after he had been knocked down. Then the cop pointed his gun to [Gaines’] throat and shot him point blank. Witnesses say [Gaines’] gun wasn’t near enough to have been a threat.”

This is young Derrick Gaines and his mother, Rachel Guido Red. At 15, he was executed by Officer Joshua Cabillo, then with the South San Francisco PD, currently employed by SFPD under Chief Greg Suhr.
This is young Derrick Gaines and his mother, Rachel Guido Red. At 15, he was executed by Officer Joshua Cabillo, then with the South San Francisco PD, currently employed by SFPD under Chief Greg Suhr.

Although Cabillo was perfunctorily cleared of any allegations of wrongdoing by the District Attorney’s Office within a few months of the murder – something that occurs frequently in San Francisco as well – this did not stop the eventuality of an out of court wrongful death settlement with Derrick’s mother, nor did it confuse those of us who know Derrick’s family or who have paid attention to the details of the case.

We know that Officer Cabillo is a child killer. What’s worse is that Officer Cabillo has a record of abuse that precedes Derrick’s murder and has now continued three and a half years later unabated. Officer Cabillo was also a defendant in a lawsuit resulting from a “probation search” on a man, Sean Joseph Penna, which occurred on Nov. 17, 2011.

The man was not actually on probation at the time, but was detained in his home by Officer Cabillo and his partner, Officer Pfarr. According to the suit, in their subsequent search of the house they compelled Penna to give them the combination of a safe from which they removed $1,000 cash, a diamond ring, a diamond pendent, certificates of title for two vehicles, spare keys and several passports. This information was not recorded on the police report and alleged to be stolen by the officers. For more on this case, see “Probation search leads to lawsuit” in the Dec. 27, 2012, San Mateo Daily Journal.

In addition to murder and allegations of burglary – these are the cases that turn up in the legal record – we have many anecdotal references about Cabillo’s brutality. Here is one from a social media thread (I preserved the grammar errors for integrity):

“He worked for SSFPD and would tell my friends ‘Ima kill you one day watch.’ My freshman year I was called in the office because the school accused me of selling weed. Cabillo goes to South San Francisco High School to investigate. He takes me in a room and gets in my face, it’s just me and him in the room [and] he tells me, “You’re a bitch ass fucking punk. I hate the kids in your side of the city.” I was raised in (the east side of South City). He then says, “I’m gonna arrest your bitch ass one fucking day.” He got mad cause he had nothing on me and they couldn’t find anything on me. I was only 15 at the time.”

What is clear is that Officer Cabillo’s abusive tendencies have been far too regular to escape the notice of the community, and thus could not have possibly escaped the notice of the South San Francisco Police Department or the San Francisco Police Department.

Officer Cabillo’s abusive tendencies have been far too regular to escape the notice of the community, and thus could not have possibly escaped the notice of the South San Francisco Police Department or the San Francisco Police Department.

Why then would this obviously violent and out of control cop be allowed to transfer to the SFPD? How do we interpret such a move other than that somewhere in the command structure of the SFPD such violent and unaccountable behavior is considered an asset? Cabillo’s hit parade continued in San Francisco.

Travis Hall, a 23-year-old college student who was brutally beaten by Officer Joshua Cabillo and two other SFPD officers “just because I’m Black” on April 10, 2015, speaks to the press on Sept. 9, 2015, when the ACLU filed a lawsuit on his behalf. – Photo: Doug Sovern, Twitter
Travis Hall, a 23-year-old college student who was brutally beaten by Officer Joshua Cabillo and two other SFPD officers “just because I’m Black” on April 10, 2015, speaks to the press on Sept. 9, 2015, when the ACLU filed a lawsuit on his behalf. – Photo: Doug Sovern, Twitter

Currently the ACLU of Northern California has an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit for the unlawful search, beating, and arrest of Travis Hall, a 23-year-old Black college student on April 10, 2015, by none other than Officer Joshua Cabillo and two other officers! The suit alleges that Hall was being dropped off at his South of Market home after music practice when he was approached and questioned by plainclothes officers.

Allegedly he was thrown to the curb facedown, slammed on the concrete, punched, had his arm twisted severely and his pants pulled down. Hall suffered multiple injuries as well as emotional trauma that continues to this day. In his own words:

“The officers who assaulted me were unprofessional and their behavior was downright malicious. Not all police officers do terrible things, but the ones who assaulted me unfortunately cast an ugly shadow on the rest of the SFPD with whom they share the uniform.

“The experience I endured at the hands of the officers on the scene that evening was dehumanizing and permanently scarred me in multiple ways. I was violently beaten and forced to stay up all night in jail with no explanation, and had to wait hours to call my family. This incident affected my physical well-being, my mental well-being and my work.

“Sadly, this is not the first incident of these same individuals harassing and terrorizing innocent citizens in the community. I am very disappointed with the reprehensible actions of these officers who are supposed to be protecting the community, ironically, from the very same type of criminal behavior they themselves engaged in. The people whose job it is to enforce the law fairly with no bias should not be immune to it and therefore the officers who assaulted me must be held accountable.”

Currently the ACLU of Northern California has an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit for the unlawful search, beating, and arrest of Travis Hall, a 23-year-old Black college student on April 10, 2015, by none other than Officer Joshua Cabillo and two other officers!

Now what you may be asking yourselves at this point in time is whether or not we are just dealing with a few rogue cops. A cursory look at Cabillo’s two partners in crime can shed light on this. The first officer implicated is Sgt. Anthony Montoya.

Montoya was suspended for 30 days by the San Francisco Police Commission in 2000 for neglect of duty regarding his cover-up of a beating of a handcuffed suspect on May 11, 1997. In this case a man, Leandro Lezcano, was arrested and while handcuffed in the back seat of the squad car was beaten by Officer Edgar Gonzalez.

Montoya and his rookie partner, Officer Edward Clark, were the ones who initiated the detention. Clark, who resigned in 1997, came out as a whistleblower and alleged that Montoya had told him to form a “human shield” so no one could witness the beating and afterwards told Clark to write a false police report deleting anything to do with the beating. Montoya was also named in a lawsuit from a 2000 case that was eventually dismissed in 2007.

But Montoya is not only a corrupt and brutal cop; he also happens to be vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association! In this capacity he has consistently supported the most brutal cops, such as in 2004 when he nominated Jason Sawyer to be representative of CPC Tactical Co., the same Jason Sawyer who a decade later would be known as one of the killers of Alex Nieto.

Or take his very telling commentary on the racist text message scandal that has recently roiled the department. In response he told the press, “This is a very noble profession these men and women have chosen. This was a very small fraction of the department that’s involved in this.” Feel like you are in an echo chamber yet?

But Montoya is not only a corrupt and brutal cop; he also happens to be vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association!

The last officer involved in Hall’s beating was a rookie cop with only two years on the force. Her name is Officer Giselle Talkoff. Apparently this rookie needed to prove herself to the other two brutal veterans. Or maybe they were just teaching the next generation of abusive cops.

Like former POA President Gary Delagnes and Chief Greg Suhr, Giselle went to high school at the elite St. Ignatius College Preparatory School. If you visit the St. Ignatius website under the section “About Us,” you are presented with this quote, attributed to Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., former superior general of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits:

“Today our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others … people who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; people convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for human beings is a farce.”

Of course, going back to the freshly revised Direct General Orders concerning Use of Force, we are reminded that “The Department is committed to using thoughtful communication and de-escalation principles before resorting to the use of force, whenever practical.”

So maybe the SFPD has just determined that little things like justice, or compassion for fellow human beings, or not being violently criminal towards the public they are sworn to serve are simply impractical when following the dictates of protecting capitalism and an utterly corrupt mayor. Maybe based on this ethic it is sensible to hire known killers from other cities to assault your neighbors.

But we operate on a different ethic. In this ethic, our companions, family members and neighbors live unmolested by abusive police. In this ethic, murderers face consequences regardless of their uniform or rank. In this ethic the people are sovereign and our public servants are beholden to our will.

So we continue to march with courage and principle, without any need or desire for facilitation or sanction from those who permit state brutality to go unanswered. We march directed, bewildered, towards an artificial city based on greed and violence. Hopefully, like Super Bowl City, this artificial city will disappear, a relic of the past, to be replaced by a city where the truth of justice and the actual sanctity of human life obliterates a racist, classist and murderous pragmatism.

We continue to march with courage and principle, without any need or desire for facilitation or sanction from those who permit state brutality to go unanswered.

Until then we stick to our demands: Fire Chief Suhr! We demand an independent investigation into the lynching of Mario Woods! Prohibit employing cops with known abusive and murderous records! Jail and charge all killer cops with murder! Free the land! And our declaration of identity: ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

Jeremy Miller is co-director of the Idriss Stelley Foundation, part of the POOR Magazine family, member of the San Francisco No-Taser Task Force and a graduate of San Francisco State University. He can be reached at djasik87.9@gmail.com.

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