When former police Chief George Gascón was appointed San Francisco’s district attorney Jan. 9, critics claimed it was only a matter of time before he would be accused of conflict of interest in his new role.
That time has come.
On Wednesday, an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office said she might ask to recuse San Francisco prosecutors from a high-profile officer-involved shooting case, citing statements Gascón made to the media defending the cops’ actions when he was police chief.
Officers shot Randal Dunklin, 55, after he allegedly stabbed a cop during a clash that shut down a block of 10th Street for several hours Jan. 4. Part of the melee was caught on video with a passer-by’s iPhone.
Police originally said Dunklin was standing when he was shot, but corrected their report after the video showed he was in a wheelchair.
The day after the incident, Gascón stood by his cops.
“I think that from a legal stance, this shooting will be deemed to be an appropriate, lawful shooting,” he said.
In court Wednesday, Dunklin pleaded not guilty to two counts of assaulting a peace officer with a deadly weapon, obstructing police and vandalism. His bail was set at $340,000, far less than the $1 million requested by city prosecutors, who called him a danger to society. Dunklin remains in custody.
Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris said the amateur video shows police overreacted by opening fire. Cops say they shot Dunklin after he threw a knife at them. But he threw the knife away from officers, as is evident in the video, Harris said. Outside the courtroom, Harris told reporters she has “serious concerns” about Gascón’s ability to be objective in the case.
“When he’s already gone on record saying that it appears officers acted properly ... I’m not sure that he’s the right person to be conducting an independent investigation,” she said.
Harris said she might request that the court remove the District Attorney’s Office from the case. If successful, the state attorney general, Kamala Harris, would step in. In an interesting twist, the newly elected AG happens to be former San Francisco DA Kamala Harris.
Erica Derryck, a spokeswoman for Gascón, denied there was a conflict of interest.
“We have consulted with the Attorney General’s Office and we’re going to be proceeding with the prosecution of this case,” Derryck said Wednesday.
Peter Keane, a professor at Golden Gate University School of Law, said Gascón should recuse himself.
“He put his own thoughts and words on the line in regard to the justification of the actions on the part of police,” Keane said.