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SFPD chief declines to punish sergeant who collided with skateboarder

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A crowd gathers around an ambulance after fights broke out between skateboarders and police during a hill bombing event held on Dolores Street in San Francisco’s Mission District Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Photo courtesy Jackson May)

A San Francisco police sergeant appears to have avoided punishment for colliding with a skateboarder in an incident captured on video near Dolores Park, despite an oversight agency’s recommendation that he be suspended.

The Department of Police Accountability revealed in a report filed ahead of the Police Commission meeting Wednesday that Chief Bill Scott declined to pursue discipline against the officer who collided with Anthony Economus last July as the skateboarder raced down Dolores Street during an unpermitted event.

The DPA did not name the sergeant because of state law protecting the privacy of officers accused of misconduct, but he is identified as Sgt. Flint Paul in an excessive force lawsuit that the skateboarder filed against him in federal court.

Patrick Buelna, an attorney for the skateboarder, said the chief’s decision “sends a message to the entire department that using excessive force is okay.”

Buelna alleges that Paul moved into his client’s path and deliberately used his shoulder to knock Economus over after another skateboarder flipped the sergeant off. The impact launched Economus into the hood of a police car and onto the ground.

The collision bloodied Economus. He suffered a fractured ankle and “sustained a large gash on his knee that took over ten stitches to close,” according to his attorney.

“He was in a wheelchair then crutches for several months,” Buelna said. “Now he essentially doesn’t skateboard any longer due to this incident.”

The City Attorney’s Office, which is representing Paul, countered in court records that Economus struck the sergeant.

The San Francisco Police Department considers the chief’s decision a personnel matter and declined to comment, but the head of the San Francisco Police Officers Association defended Paul as a “very well-respected” sergeant.

“Sgt. Paul is an outstanding police officer, I’ve known him his entire career,” SFPOA President Tony Montoya said. “What happened up on Dolores Street that night was unfortunate.”

The DPA recommended that the sergeant be suspended for three days for an alleged failure to comply with crowd control policies and inappropriate behavior.

“DPA received numerous complaints regarding a sergeant who used a police vehicle and his own body to block the path of skateboarders riding down a large hill,” the report said. “The complainants expressed grave concern about the sergeant’s conduct because it appeared intentional, unnecessary, and specifically aimed at harming the skateboarders.”

The report also included details on 17 cases in which the DPA substained 48 allegations against 35 officers in the last four months.

DPA Executive Director Paul Henderson declined to comment on the skateboarding case directly but said his department is attempting to be more transparent.

“I’m trying to provide as much as I can in a way that I can that’s available to the broadest audience possible,” Henderson said.

The collision was not the first incident to land Paul in court.

In 2015, a man sued Paul over allegations of excessive force for flinging him against a police car and to the ground during Pride weekend.

The City Attorney’s Office reached an undisclosed settlement agreement with the plaintiff, Tony Nguyen, last year.

It is not known whether Paul faced discipline for the first incident.

Buelna said Paul remains a sergeant at Mission Police Station.

The civil trial is scheduled to begin next April.

Skateboarder Anthony Economus suffered injuries including a fractured ankle in a collision with a San Francisco police officer. (Courtesy Law Offices of John Burris)

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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