A San Francisco police shooting that injured an unarmed auto burglary suspect last week elicited rare apologies Thursday from Police Chief Bill Scott and an officer who says his gun unintentionally “went off” during the incident.
Xavier Pittman, 23, was shot in the wrist last Friday afternoon in an alley near Third and Brannan streets when Officer Zachary McAuliffe and another plainclothes officer from Central Station moved in to arrest him in connection with a series of auto burglaries.
“The shooting of Mr. Pittman quite simply should not have happened,” Scott said during a virtual community meeting on the case Thursday. “I’m deeply sorry that Mr. Pittman was shot during this incident and I would like to take this opportunity to apologize.”
While the San Francisco Examiner reported Wednesday that the shooting may have been a negligent or unintentional discharge by McAuliffe, a seven-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, Scott said it is still “too early” to make a determination.
But McAuliffe issued a statement through his attorney saying he “did not intend for his firearm to go off.”
“Officer McAuliffe has asked me to convey just how badly he feels that this happened,” said his attorney, Mike Hinckley. “He sincerely apologizes to Mr. Pittman and wishes him a full and speedy recovery.”
The apologies stunned civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, who is representing Pittman in the matter. He called the statements “titanic.”
“In 17 years of working in this field I can’t recall a single time where at this stage of litigation there has been any olive branch extended or any acknowledgment that what one of what their officers did is something that should not have happened,” Pointer told the Examiner.
The shooting unfolded after police received various 911 calls reporting a group of men in a vehicle committing car break-ins across San Francisco from Golden Gate Park to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Videos released by police show McAuliffe and another plainclothes officer approach a vehicle wanted in connection with the auto burglaries in an alley called Varney Place near the South Park area.
The officers appear to have rushed in with guns drawn and grabbed Pittman as he rummaged through items near the trunk of the vehicle. A single gunshot can be heard in an audio recording of the incident almost immediately after the officers announced their presence.
In apparent disbelief, Pittman then asked why police shot him.
“I didn’t do nothing. You shot me,” Pittman is heard saying in the recording. “Oh my god. Please, I’m dying. I’m bleeding. Oh my god. I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying. Ya’ll killed me.”
Pittman survived after being taken to a hospital for treatment and has since been booked on suspicion of various auto burglary and other charges. It’s unclear whether the District Attorney’s Office has decided to file formal charges against him.
While the chief has fired one officer before over a December 2017 police shooting in the Bayview, Scott’s apology and admission that the shooting should not have occurred appears to be virtually unprecedented for him.
The officer in the other case, Christopher Samayoa, was a rookie who opened fire from inside a moving vehicle and has since been criminally charged.
Police Commissioner John Hamasaki, an frequent critic of the department, commended Scott for his apology.
“Across the country we have seen policing lose its credibility and integrity by denying what we can see with our own two eyes,” Hamasaki told the Examiner. “I am proud to see Chief Scott show a better path forward by taking responsibility for the actions of his department.”
Scott said he has directed all district stations to stop conducting investigations in plainclothes while the department reviews its training, policies and protocols in response to the incident. But he said the stations will continue their investigations in uniform.
The shooting was also not captured on body-worn camera footage because the department’s policy for the camera does not require plainclothes officers to wear the devices under certain circumstances, Scott said. He said his department will review that policy.
Multiple investigations are ongoing into the shooting including by the District Attorney’s Office and Department of Police Accountability.
This story has been updated to include additional comments and information.