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Judge rules lawsuit against officers in Mario Woods shooting can go to trial

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Videos of the Dec. 2, 2015 police shooting of Mario Woods, who was suspected of stabbing and attacking a man earlier that day, circulated widely on social media and triggered outrage from those who felt police should have been able to subdue him without killing him. (Examiner screenshot)

A federal judge in San Francisco has cleared the way for an April 1 trial on a civil rights lawsuit filed by the mother of Mario Woods, who was fatally shot by five police officers in the city’s Bayview District in 2015.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick, in a ruling filed Tuesday, said Gwendolyn Woods, the mother of Mario Woods, could proceed to a jury trial on her claims that the officers violated a California law by allegedly using excessive force in the shooting.

At the time of the shooting on the afternoon of Dec. 2, 2015, police were seeking to arrest Woods, 26, as a suspect in an earlier stabbing and Woods had a knife with a 4.5-inch blade, according to the ruling.

Orrick wrote that Woods’ lawyer had shown enough preliminary evidence “to allow a jury to conclude that by escalating to deadly force in such a situation, officers acted with reckless disregard for Woods’s rights.”

SEE RELATED: Judge orders DA to release parts of case file in Mario Woods shooting investigation

“Videos show that officers significantly outnumbered Woods, who had neither brandished the knife nor made verbal threats, but rather made statements a fact finder could infer were suicidal. A jury could infer that Woods was injured and moving slowly at the moment officers shot him,” the judge wrote.

The officers contend they acted reasonably because of fear for their safety and that of bystanders, Orrick noted. He said the question “is properly resolved by a jury.”

Orrick also allowed a state law claim of negligence to proceed to trial.

He dismissed the mother’s federal constitutional claims, saying he was required to do so under the terms of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year in the case of an Arizona woman who shot by an officer as she wielded a knife. The judge also dismissed the city as a plaintiff.

John Burris, a lawyer for Gwendolyn Woods, said, “I’m pleased we have a trial date. Mr. Woods’ possession of a knife should not have been a death warrant. Mr. Woods never moved toward the officers.”

Burris said the videos Orrick referred to include one made by a bus driver at the scene and others made by bystanders.

John Cote, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said, “When handling a motion to dismiss the case, the judge is required under the law to construe everything in the light that is most favorable to the plaintiff.

“In that light, the judge still dismissed all of the federal civil rights claims but said that two narrow claims remain as questions for a jury
to decide,” Cote said.

City lawyers had asked for dismissal of all claims in the case.

-By Julia Cheever, Bay City News

John Burris sits with Gwendolyn Woods at the Allen Chapel AME Church in the Bayview to bring awareness to their request for DOJ investigation of the SFPD over the shooting of Mario Woods. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

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