On April 7, Roger Allen, a 44-year-old Black man from San Francisco, was sitting in a truck with a damaged tire when Daly City police approached the vehicle and offered assistance. Based on police and witness statements, authorities said a struggle ensued over a fake gun that ended with Allen being fatally shot.
But with no video evidence emerging of the shooting at a time when the public is paying close attention to police uses of force across the nation, his family and supporters are questioning the official version of events, and calling for Daly City police to equip its officers with body-worn cameras.
“I just want answers,” said Allen’s sister, Talika Fletcher. “I wanna know what happened.”
With 94 officers on the force, the Daly City Police Department is among the last law enforcement agencies in San Mateo County to roll out body-worn cameras. This is despite a Civil Grand Jury report finding that all law enforcement agencies in the county should equip officers with the devices by late 2017.
Body-worn cameras have become a standard piece of equipment for many law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area. The cameras are liked by both civilians and officers for providing a neutral account of contentious incidents, and can help convict — or acquit — officers of alleged wrongdoing.
The power of not just body-worn cameras, but video in general, was put on display as recently as last week when prosecutors secured a rare murder conviction against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd using bystander video, among other evidence.
“Make no mistake about it, every city in San Mateo County should have body cameras,” said David Canepa, who represents Daly City and other areas as president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. “It’s in the best interest of the community to have the video and it’s in the best interest of the police officers.”
Allen died after being shot once by an officer on Niantic Avenue between Citrus and Westlake avenues on the afternoon of April 7. His shooting has prompted demonstrations in both Daly City and San Francisco.
As of Friday, authorities have not recovered any video evidence that captured the shooting, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Investigators have, however, obtained the audio from a nearby camera that captured the sound of two gunshots and incoherent yelling.
John Burris, a longtime civil rights attorney who is representing the family, said his firm has interviewed a male witness who was with Allen at the time of the shooting and corroborated the allegation that there was a struggle. But Burris still has questions about why police were on scene in the first place.
Daly City police having body-worn cameras would have helped his firm establish the truth and determine whether the shooting was unlawful.
“Without corroboration, I have a tendency not to accept the version of law enforcement, period,” Burris said.
Since 2016, Daly City officials have agreed that body-worn cameras could increase transparency and should be implemented, but said in response to the Civil Grand Jury report that “significant budget constraints” prevented the city from buying them by the 2017 deadline.
Reached by phone this week, some members of the Daly City council maintained that funding issues persist, but said that purchasing the body-worn cameras is a top priority in the next budget cycle.
Mayor Juslyn Manalo and Councilmember Glenn Sylvester supported purchasing the body-worn cameras, while Council Vice President Rod Daus-Magbual expressed concerns about buying the devices.
“The number one issue around body-worn cameras is being able to pay for them, honestly,” Manalo said.
Manalo said the council identified modernizing police equipment as a priority during a February retreat, before police shot Allen. The city has estimated that purchasing the cameras, as well as buying dash cameras for police vehicles and equipping officers with the controversial stun guns known as Tasers, would cost $560,000 a year.
Sylvester, a former San Francisco police sergeant, said the cameras would help build the public trust and identify any “bad” police officers.
“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you fear nobody,” Sylvester said. “I believe the cameras will provide valuable information for complete transparency for our citizens and also for the officers.”
But Daus-Magbual is still weighing his position on the matter. He questioned whether equipping officers with the cameras would reduce excessive force, and expressed concerns about them being used for “surveillance.”
“For me the body-worn cameras are not going to solve police brutality, excessive use of force, the murdering of people,” Daus-Magbual said. “Money that could be used for body cameras could be used for something else.”
Councilmember Pamela DiGiovanni was not available to comment by press time, while Councilmember Ray Buenaventura did not respond to inquiries.
Shakeel Ali, a spokesperson for the Allen family, accused the Daly City council of dragging its feet.
“Money can’t be an excuse,” said Ali, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the council in 2020. “They weren’t being proactive. It’s a shame it takes a tragedy for them to try to score some political points for something that’s a no-brainer.”
Canepa, the San Mateo County supervisor, has offered to help the council find funding.
While the council has identified the cameras as a budget priority, Allen’s family and advocates feel more should be done. They have called for releasing the names of the officer who shot Allen and three other officers at the scene.
Kate Amoo-Gottfried is one of the organizers pushing for the names to be released. She’s been advocating for police accountability as part of the group Justice for Chinedu since her family friend, Chinedu Okobi, died after being tased by a San Mateo County sheriff’s deputy in Millbrae in October 2018.
“The public has a right to know if officers were involved in a fatality and are now patrolling the streets,” Amoo-Gottfried said.
The Daly City Police Department has declined to release the names of the officers until the District Attorney’s Office completes its investigation into the shooting, according to Daly City Sgt. Brandon Scholes.
Asked by the Examiner, Manalo, Sylvester and Daus-Magbual all supported waiting for the investigation to be completed before releasing the names rather than doing so immediately.
But Amoo-Gottfried said other agencies typically release the names of officers who fatally shoot people without waiting for investigations to be completed. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, for instance, identified the deputies who shot and killed Sandra Harmon in May 2020 within a week.
Wagstaffe is expected to decide whether to complete his investigation and make a charging decision in the Allen case within two months. His policy is to defer to the law enforcement agencies who carried out the shootings when releasing the names of officers.
Wagstaffe said he has supported body-worn cameras for years, but stopped short of criticizing Daly City for not rolling out the devices.
“I’m not critical of Daly City,” Wagstaffe said. “If they can’t afford it, they can make judgements on where they spend their dollars.”
Daly City Police Chief Patrick Hensley and the Daly City Police Officers Association did not respond to requests for comment.