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New details emerge in fatal Mid Market police shooting

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SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, flanked by Police Commission President Suzy Loftus and Police Commisioner Sonya Melara, addressed the crowd at a town hall meeting, Monday October 19, 2015, going over the details of a police involved shooting where a police sergeant shot and killed a male suspect who allegedly tried to grab a gun from another officer near 8th and Market streets on Thursday, October 15, 2015. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Herbert Benitez and his mother were at San Francisco’s Main Library last Thursday when he left to grab lunch.

He never returned. Police shot and killed Benitez, 27, a block away from the library on the south side of Eighth and Market streets.

Benitez was fatally shot by a 17-year veteran sergeant after he was reportedly acting erratically, police said. Benitez allegedly got a hold of a sergeant’s handgun, and pointed at his face when he was shot twice by the other sergeant at the scene.

At a public meeting held by police inside the Bill Graham Civic Center Auditorium Monday, Police Chief Greg Suhr offered an account of what prompted the two veteran sergeants to engage Benitez.

If the incident hadn’t ended the way it did, “we’d have at least a shot or dead police officer,”said Suhr.

The names of both sergeants — neither of whom are certified in Crisis Intervention Training — have yet to be released.The police investigation into the shooting has not found any surveillance camera footage that backs up the police department’s account, Suhr said.

Fatal shooting

Before the killing, Benitez was mumbling loudly and incoherently to a construction worker who tried to stop him from throwing glass bottles into the street, Suhr said. Benitez reportedly challenged the worker to call the cops.

The workers then flagged down two sergeants passing by in a police cruiser. The driver, a 29-year veteran, confronted Benitez, who reportedly said, “‘Don’t talk to me, people are watching me… don’t f—ing touch me.’”

The sergeants grabbed Benitez’s arms but he “became combative,” Suhr said. The sergeant who’d been driving backed up, giving Benitez space to calm down, but Benitez lunged toward him.

“He reached his hand inside the sergeant’s shirt and locked onto his vest,” Suhr said. “Benitez took the sergeant to the ground, slamming him into the curb and landing on top of him.”

Benitez then tried to take the driver sergeant’s gun. That sergeant then called out for help from his partner, Suhr said. The other sergeant tried to pull Benitez off his partner.

Benitez pulled the gun from the holster, and pointed it at the sergeant as the two struggled over the weapon. The sergeant was “looking down the barrel of his own gun, yelling to his partner, ‘He’s got my gun — shoot him!’” according to Suhr.

The other sergeant then let go of Benitez, drew his pistol and fired it, Suhr said.

Benitez was struck twice, fell to the ground the dropped the sergeant’s handgun on the sidewalk.

Benitez was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver sergeant had a bruised hip and kidney, dislocated knee that put itself back into place and contusions to his hands, face and knees, Suhr said. The passenger’s nose was bloodied from being struck in the face and he had scratches to his face and neck.

Both were taken to local hospitals.

Response
Upon hearing Suhr’s account of the fatal shooting, an unidentified woman approached the podium at Monday’s meeting and said she knew Benitez and his family through church.

“The Herbert you’re describing is not the Herbert I knew when I would see him Tuesday nights at bible study,” she said. “We are just speechless right now.”

Fredy Bolvito, a Tenderloin resident who works in the same neighborhood, said the Latino community in The City is in danger. Benitez was Hispanic, police said.

“When I have an incident I don’t call the police because I’m afraid I’m going to be shot because of my language barrier,” Bolvito said. “It could be my brother, it could be my sister, it can be my mom and dad.”

Police Commission President Suzy Loftus reminded the public the police investigation is only one of several into the fatal shooting, as a part of routine protocol. The District Attorney’s Office and Office of Citizen’s Complaints will perform independent investigations, she said.

The police shooting is the fifth officer-involved shooting of the year, Suhr said.

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