A San Francisco police officer clung to life Thursday after a driver allegedly struck him the day prior while fleeing police near Civic Center.
Elia Lewin-Tankel, a 32-year-old officer at Tenderloin Station who joined the San Francisco Police Department in 2012, underwent surgery at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and remained in critical condition Thursday.
“He’s doing better today and then he was yesterday,” Police Chief Bill Scott told reporters outside the hospital Thursday. “Elia is a fighter… and the fight is not over.”
Lewin-Tankel was on his bicycle assisting officers chasing the driver of a stolen vehicle when the suspect allegedly struck him near Turk Street and Van Ness Avenue. Scott said the driver was a suspect in a gun case.
The incident happened on one of the most dangerous streets for cyclists and pedestrians in San Francisco, according to public health officials.
The suspect allegedly drove away from the scene and ditched his vehicle near Buena Vista Park. Officers later arrested the suspect at Ellis and Leavenworth streets.
Maurquise Johnson, 50, was booked into County Jail on suspicion of attempted murder, hit-and-run driving, evading an officer with willful disregard and other charges, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Johnson appears to have been on probation when he was booked into jail.
Prosecutors filed attempted murder and various other charges against Johnson. He is expected to appear in court for his arraignment on Friday afternoon.
Court records show that Johnson has a history of encounters with law enforcement, including a recent conviction for possession of a controlled substance on Feb. 7.
Johnson, who is also known as Maurice Johnson, pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge and served 67 days in County Jail.
The charge stemmed from his arrest last December on suspicion of possessing crack and marijuana for sale.
On Thursday, the San Francisco Police Officers Association flew Lewin-Tankel’s parents and his wife’s parents into The City, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Lewin-Tankel earned the department’s Purple Heart Award in 2015 after he was injured trying to prevent “serious injury or loss of life to members of the community,” according to the department.
Police said he chose his assignment at Tenderloin Station — one of the “busiest, most demanding” stations in the department. He also teaches jiu-jitsu to SFPD members and the community, and recently started law school.
Supervisor Jane Kim said he is well-known in the Tenderloin community and is on the “front lines” in reaching out to residents. “Everyone says they love him in the community,” she said. “We are all pulling for him.”
In a statement, Lewin-Tankel’s family asked the public to “send good energy and prayers for his recovery, which we know will happen, because Elia is a survivor.”
City officials visited Lewin-Tankel Wednesday and Thursday at the hospital.
“My heart goes out to him and his family, and also to the officers of the department, especially those who work directly with him,” Board of Supervisors President London Breed said. “I know how hard they work to protect the public, and to have a situation like this happen is very sad.”
According to voter records from last year, Lewin-Tankel was born in Pennsylvania and is a resident of the Excelsior. His public Facebook account shows that he married his wife, Shideh Etaat, in 2014.
“This is not the end of Elia’s story,” his wife said in a statement that Scott read to reporters. “Please, please send him positive energy and love.”
Lewin-Tankel is a percussionist with the band Pangea Futbol Club, according to sources who know him, and the group chose its name “to remind listeners that the human race is still a single family, one that dances to a never-ending global groove,” according to SF Weekly.
In December 2015, Lewin-Tankel spoke at a Police Commission in opposition of a policy preventing officers from viewing body-worn camera footage before writing a police report.
“I’m a San Francisco police officer but I’m also a member of this community, and I think there’s enough division at this point,” Lewin-Tankel said. “This program was presented to us as a tool.”
“Nationwide it’s being seen as a tool to make us better police officers, to make us better at our job, and to allow us to do our job in a safe and transparent way,” he continued.
As of Thursday afternoon, Lewin-Tankel remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit of San Francisco General.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional information and to clarify that Lewin-Tankel is a five-year veteran of the Police Department.