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SFPD watchdog partially sustains complaint over police clearing tents after Gongora shooting

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Members of the community hold signs in protest during a Town Hall meeting in response to the April 7 police shooting death of Luis Gongora. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s police watchdog has partially upheld a complaint against officers who allegedly intimidated and threatened the witnesses of a police shooting at a homeless encampment, according to a new report on police misconduct.

The Department of Police Accountability sustained several but not all of the allegations against officers who cleared a homeless encampment at 18th and Shotwell streets after the shooting of Luis Gongora in April 2016, according to a report to be presented to the Police Commission Wednesday.

Adriana Camarena, a Mission District activist and resident, filed the complaint against police after she said an officer made insensitive and threatening comments to her as she filmed police removing the tents. The officer also flashed a flashlight in her face to dissuade her from recording, she said.

Camarena alleged that the officers targeted the encampment to intimidate homeless witnesses who saw officers shoot Gongora. The shooting came as then-police Chief Greg Suhr faced scrutiny over police shootings that would eventually lead to his resignation.

“Luis was the third killing after Alex Nieto in a neighborhood that has just been failed by gentrification,” Camarena said. “His death provoked a crisis that then made it impossible for Suhr to remain after the next killing.”

The DPA sustained several allegations including violations of department orders on acting courteously and defending the “Rights of Onlookers.”

The DPA also found that officers used selective enforcement as well as intimidating and threatening behavior, but their actions were justified by department policy. The DPA recommended that that policy be changed.

The DPA said claims that the officers destroyed the tent encampment were unfounded. The DPA also found there was a “training failure” when it came to officers making threatening and intimidating comments.

The complaint was one of 65 sustained against police out of 601 complaints filed in 2016, according to the report

The DPA forwards its findings to the police chief, who decides whether to discipline the officers involved or hold a disciplinary hearing at the Police Commission. Officer discipline is confidential.

“We take these complaints seriously and we carefully evaluate each on a case-by-case basis, examining all the evidence before the chief makes a decision regarding discipline,” said David Stevenson, a San Francisco Police Department spokesperson.

Other findings included in the report are:

  •  A complaint sustained in November 2016 against SFPD for enforcing immigration laws after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a man released from custody outside a San Francisco police station.
  •  A complaint not sustained in January 2018 against officers for excessive force and failure to properly handle evidence in a police shooting. The report does not specify which police shooting the complaint referred to.
  • An inappropriate behavior complaint sustained in January 2017 against one of the officers who shot and killed Alex Nieto for posting a comment on Facebook that said “Smiling. Ugh how about burning down his house and tazing his friend who pressed charges.”

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