A federal judge in San Francisco on Thursday ordered District Attorney George Gascon to release files in his investigation into the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods, which led to his decision not to charge the officers involved last month.
The order came down in the federal wrongful death lawsuit that Gwendolyn Woods, the mother of Mario Woods, filed against the City and County of San Francisco and the five officers who shot and killed her son on Dec. 2, 2015. The shooting led to police reform and the resignation of then-Chief Greg Suhr.
Adante Pointer, an attorney for the family, is seeking to prove that San Francisco is liable in the killing because there was a pattern of police shooting people of color under Suhr, as well as two police texting scandals showing racism in the San Francisco Police Department.
John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said in a statement that the argument is “frivolous and should be dismissed.”
On May 24, Gascon announced that he would not charge the officers who shot Woods, a 26-year-old black man from the Bayview. Prosecutors said police reasonably fired on Woods when he walked toward an officer who stepped in his path to stop him from moving at bystanders with a knife.
“We vehemently disagree with that,” Pointer told reporters outside the courtroom of U.S. District Judge William Orrick. “Nevertheless, we want to see, what did he uncover during his investigation? Are there additional witnesses that gave additional statements? New videos? It’s very important for us to get that.”
Pointer said the judge directed the District Attorney’s Office to disclose files from the investigation to both Pointer and an attorney from the City Attorney’s Office, who also sought the discovery, and to provide a list of the documents that the office refuses to hand over, which will likely be argued over in the future.
Meanwhile, Pointer has also subpoenaed both Gascon and Suhr to testify in the case, which both men objected to. While Orrick found deposing Gascon would be unnecessary, Pointer said deposing Suhr is still on the table. But the judge first directed him to seek testimony from others in the SFPD.
By deposing Suhr, Pointer would seek to show that San Francisco is liable because Suhr knew the SFPD “nurtured a permissive culture of excessive force and racial bias,” Pointer said in filings.
Pointer suggests that Suhr was complicit in the culture because the chief said after the shooting that Woods raised the knife with his hand before officers shot him, which videos later showed not to be the case.
“Was this somebody who essentially ignored the facts or displayed the ‘facts’ in such a way to mislead the public?” Pointer said. “We think that’s highly relevant to determining whether or not the person who was the captain of the ship, of SFPD, was steering it away from what we think is the iceberg of accountability.”
Cote called the attempt to depose them “a transparent effort to harass current or former officials.”
“To depose a high-ranking official, the official has to be a direct witness or privy to facts that no one else has,” Cote said. “That is clearly not the case here. Chief Suhr and District Attorney Gascón didn’t witness the shooting. They don’t have facts that no one else has.”
Pointer also points to the fact that the department later updated the use-of-force policy as helping his argument.
“The San Francisco Police Department’s policies and practices have long conformed to constitutional standards,” Cote said. “That has been proven in case after case for years. Changing a policy is not an indication it was unconstitutional.”
The case is currently scheduled for trial beginning Nov. 5.