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Second autopsy affirms Guatemalan immigrant was shot in the back by police

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Amilcar Lopez was fatally shot by San Francisco police in the Mission on Feb. 26, 2015. (Courtesy Arnoldo Casillas)

A second autopsy of a young Guatemalan immigrant who was shot dead one year ago today by San Francisco police appears to contradict Police Chief Greg Suhr’s initial claims about the shooting.

The autopsy, conducted by the Medical Examiner’s Office and obtained Thursday by the San Francisco Examiner, mirrors the findings of an independent autopsy conducted after Amilcar Perez Lopez, 20, was fatally shot by officers in the Mission district on Feb. 26, 2015.

The shooting of Perez Lopez opened old wounds for community members who say they were traumatized by police in the past, but seemed to quickly fade from the spotlight unlike the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods by police last December. Following Woods’ death, city officials announced sweeping reforms to the Police Department.

Suhr told the public soon after the shooting that Perez Lopez was lunging at two plainclothes police officers with a knife when they shot him.

However, that claim was apparently contradicted last April by an independent autopsy, which showed Perez Lopez had been shot four times in the back, once through the arm and again through the backside of his head.

The City’s autopsy reflects that account.

The independent autopsy was commissioned by attorneys for the Perez Lopez family, who filed a civil rights lawsuit against The City, Suhr and the officers involved in the shooting, alleging that officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli used excessive force and caused the wrongful death of Perez Lopez.

“This case is truly significant because the contrast between their version and the physical evidence is so stark,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the lead attorney in the case. “We’ve got our autopsy and their autopsy that show the bullets hit him in the back.”

At a public meeting last March, Suhr said Perez Lopez was trying to rob a man of his bicycle using a knife when the officers were forced to open fire. Perez Lopez reportedly attacked the officers with the knife and refused to drop the weapon when he was shot, he said.

An SFPD spokesperson declined to comment on the case because of the pending litigation. But in early February, Suhr told KQED that upon further discussion with the officers, Perez Lopez had turned away from officers to chase the man with the bicycle.

William Simpich, a former neighbor of Perez Lopez and one of the attorneys in the civil rights lawsuit, said Perez Lopez did not know the officers were police because they were wearing civilian clothing and said Perez Lopez did not speak English.

“The problem is the way police responded to the situation,” Simpich said, adding that Perez Lopez was running away when the officers shot him. “They came from behind with no warning,” he said.

The District Attorney’s Office, which investigates all officer-involved shootings, has not completed its investigation into the incident.

In memory

On Friday Rev. Richard Smith, of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in the Mission, will host the vigil at 24th and Folsom streets, where Perez Lopez was killed.

“It’s something that is both somewhat healing, but also just sending a real clear message that we’re really sick of this behavior on the part of the police,” Smith said.

Supporters plan to march to the Mission Police Station, where they will demand “thorough” investigations into the deaths of Woods, Perez Lopez and Alex Nieto, who was killed by police on Bernal Heights in 2014, said Smith.

Smith said residents of the Bernal Heights neighborhood were traumatized by the shooting of Perez Lopez; some had witnessed his body lying in the street, while others heard the gunshots.

Perez Lopez was from a rural part of Guatemala, attorneys said. He worked construction jobs in San Francisco and would send money back to his family.

“My son is from Guatemala, and he looked like Amilcar,” said Smith, who officiated Perez Lopez’s funeral. “This could have been our kid.”

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