SFPD awards medals of valor to officers for bravery in police shootings

In October 2016, a mentally disturbed man acting erratically in Lakeshore Plaza shot a police officer in the head. The manhunt that ensued ended with a shootout in Stern Grove, where police killed 26-year-old Nicholas McWherter.

The officers who opened fire, Nathan Chew and Paul Dominguez, are among the 30 San Francisco Police Department officers set to receive medals of valor for exceptional bravery Wednesday evening.

Twelve of the officers are slated to receive an award for incidents in which they shot at a suspect. All of the officers to be commended for police shootings have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the District Attorney’s Office.

“Each day, our officers place themselves in harm’s way to protect the public,” Chief Bill Scott said in a statement. “It is important that we recognize and reflect upon what we demand of our officers while celebrating their acts of valor and commitment to the safety of the public.”

The SFPD plans to award medals of valor to officers for the police shootings of McWherter, Herbert Omar Benitez, Alice Brown, Jason Seymour and Giovany Contreras-Sandoval, which occurred between 2014 and 2016.

Of the suspects, only Seymour survived.

In the most recent incident, Chew and Dominguez discharged their firearms at McWherter on Oct. 14, 2016 while searching for the man who shot Officer Kevin Downs in the head with a .22 caliber pistol.

Prosecutors said McWherter fired at Dominguez before both officers shot back.

Chew, Dominguez and Officer James Trail, who also searched for the shooter, will receive the gold medal of valor for the incident. Chew is also one of the officers who shot at Alex Nieto in the controversial March 2014 police shooting.

Herbert Omar Benitez

On Oct. 15, 2015, Sgt. Michael Koniaris shot and killed Benitez during a struggle near Eighth and Market streets that started after Benitez threw glass bottles into the street.

Benitez allegedly took Sgt. Joseph McCloskey’s gun out of its holster during the struggle and pointed it at the sergeant’s head.

Both Koniaris and McCloskey will be awarded gold medals of valor.

Alice Brown

On March 17, 2015, Officer Michael Tursi and Sgt. Tom Maguire ended a pursuit of a stolen vehicle by shooting at the driver, Brown, after she allegedly crashed into other vehicles on the road and drove the wrong way down a street.

The Medical Examiner’s Office later found that Brown was under the influence of methamphetamine when she died.

Tursi, Maguire and Officer Donn Peterson, who also pursued Brown, will be awarded bronze medals of valor.

Jason Seymour

On Nov. 6, 2014, Officer Eduard Ochoa shot Seymour while working undercover at a public housing project in Potrero Hill.

Prosecutors said Seymour ran from a suspected drug deal and was shot in the abdomen after ducking into an alcove, drawing a gun and refusing to drop it.

Seymour later pleaded guilty to felony brandishing a firearm at an officer.

Ochoa will receive the silver medal of valor.

Giovany Contreras-Sandoval

On Sept. 24, 2014, six police officers shot at Contreras-Sandoval after he allegedly carjacked an Escalade in Richmond and led authorities on a pursuit into San Francisco, where he crashed the vehicle in the Financial District.

Contreras-Sandoval allegedly fired an antique revolver at a bystander before the officers surrounded him and opened fire after he raised the gun toward police.

Nine officers will receive silver medals of valor for the incident, including Officers Omar Alvarenga, Kurt Macauley, James Johnson, Ryan McEachern, Gordon Wong and Christopher Cotter, who discharged their weapons.

Six San Francisco police officers fatally shot carjacking suspect Giovany Contreras-Sandoval at California and Battery streets on Sept. 24, 2014. The officers were awarded medals of valor Wednesday. (Courtesy SFPD via District Attorney’s Office)

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Michael Barba
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