Mother of Mario Woods calls DA decision in police shooting ‘reprehensible’

The mother of Mario Woods condemned the decision not to charge the officers who shot and killed her son in a fiery denunciation of District Attorney George Gascon at the Hall of Justice on Tuesday.

Gascon announced last Thursday that he would not be charging five San Francisco police officers with murder or manslaughter for unleashing a hail of bullets on Woods as the 26-year-old man shambled down a Bayview sidewalk with a knife in his hand on December 2, 2015.

“I’m not okay with this, Gascon,” Gwen Woods said on the courthouse steps, joined by the families of other men shot and killed by San Francisco police. “It’s reprehensible what he did to Mario… He executed him all over again.”

Officers Charles August, Winston Seto, Antonio Santos, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips fired 26 rounds at Woods. Critics likened the police shooting to a firing squad as graphic videos showed a group of officers open fire in a semi-circle around Woods, who was a suspect in a nearby stabbing.

The shooting, which occurred during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide, spurred police reform efforts in San Francisco.

“This man gave me a pill to digest without water and I am choking on it,” Gwen Woods said. “Today I wish we were a city like Ferguson. Don’t let those hate mongers go back in my community, a community of black and poor. Don’t let them go because it doesn’t turn out right.”

The shots rang out after Woods moved in the direction of an officer who stepped in front of him to defend bystanders standing at a Muni bus behind police.

“I heard them say they had to stop him, they had to stop Mario,” Gwen Woods said. “No they didn’t, because they just went ballistic with the gun while our babies were coming home from school… They saw him as nothing or nobody.”

Gascon also announced Thursday that he would not charge officers in the police shooting of Luis Gongora Pat, a Mayan immigrant killed after swinging a knife at a Mission District homeless encampment in April 2016.

The Woods and Gongora shootings were among a series of police killings that led up to the resignation of then-Chief Greg Suhr in May 2016.

Gascon called both shootings disturbing but said prosecutors could not prove that police acted unreasonably in either case.

“Ultimately, the law says that no crime was committed, but that is frustrating for the DA because he believes that the shootings may not have been necessary,” said Max Szabo, a spokesperson for Gascon. “The state should only be using lethal force when its necessary – not simply because it’s reasonable.”

The charging decisions have prompted Woods and Gongora supporters to call for Gascon to resign. Phelicia Jones, an activist who organized protests around the Woods shooting, led the crowd at the Hall of Justice in a chant against Gascon.

“Gascon is a DA for cops,” Jones said. “You will not be re-elected in the city and county of San Francisco. We need someone here who is not only going to represent law enforcement but also going to represent the people, black and brown communities of San Francisco.”

John Burris, a prominent civil rights attorney representing the families of both Woods and Gongora in federal lawsuits against San Francisco, called on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to launch an investigation into the shootings to determine whether the officers can be charged.

“This is the type of case that the state attorney general should take a look at,” Burris said on the steps. “We do not have to accept this decision.”

Public Defender Jeff Adachi joined the crowd and questioned whether Gascon could have charged the officers in either case with lesser charges like involuntary manslaughter or negligent discharge of a firearm.

“It’s a warning to everyone out there that police officers in San Francisco, the progressive bastion of the nation, are not going to be held any more accountable than anywhere else in this country,” Adachi said.

Jose Gongora Pat, brother of Luis Gongora Pat, who was shot and killed by SF Police in March 2016, wipes away tears as he denounces District Attorney George Gascon for filing no charges last week against the officers involved. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Michael Barba
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