Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story included a photograph, provided by the Public Defender’s Office, that was not the police officer in question. There are two officers named Nicholas Buckley in the San Francisco Police Department, and the image has since been deleted.
About a dozen men stood around a craps game on the corner of Eddy and Taylor streets in December. But the late-night game was soon called off when police rolled up on the men.
As the men quickly spread out at around 11 p.m., moving away from the two officers, one man was picked out of the crowd and taken to the ground by an officer. That man was subsequently brought up on gun charges in federal court.
But the charges were dismissed Thursday because video evidence apparently contradicted sworn statements and police reports about the incident being a lawful stop.
“The video was unequivocal in rebutting everything the police officer testified to — at least to all the pertinent details,” said U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer after he dismissed the case against Brandon Simpson, who faced up to 10 years in prison.
The case is the latest in a list of recent incidents where video has appeared to contradict police accounts of events, including the Dec. 2 killing of Mario Woods and the more recent killing by police of Luis Gongora last month.
According to testimony from one officer, Nicholas Buckley, and decelerations and police reports from Buckley and Officer John Fergus, Simpson was stopped because it appeared he was concealing a weapon.
The officers’ version of events contends Buckley followed Simpson and asked him to stop more than once, but Simpson did not comply. A prolonged scuffle ensued, and Buckley said he had to strike Simpson several times to subdue him. Then, according to Fergus’ declaration, he noticed a white sock nearby. Inside that sock was a gun.
But video of the incident discovered by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and provided to the Federal Public Defender’s Office told a different story.
Instead, the incident transpired very quickly. Within 10 seconds of his arrival on the scene, Buckley had his hands on Simpson. Then, two other officers arrived and tackled Simpson, who was subdued within half a minute. While on the ground one of the officers is seen punching Simpson at least eight times. Buckley’s declaration said he punched him twice.
In his statement in court, Breyer touted the power of video technology to prove what in fact occurred in any incident and called for body cameras for all police, which are already on their way to San Francisco.
Breyer ended his statement by saying he is not enraged but “saddened” by what occurred.
The court’s findings have since been forwarded to the Police Department. Police did not return calls for comment on whether the officers face discipline.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office has become known for its powerful video evidence, said discrepancies between the truth and what officers say are common. There just isn’t always video to prove it.
“Clearly, they manufacturers this,” said Adachi. “There’s a word for it. They call it ‘testilying.’ Officers do this to justify why they stopped someone.”
Usually, police officer testimony and their reports are taken without question as a true depiction of events, he said.
“Video has now become a champion of justice,” Adachi said, adding that this has been especially true with police misconduct cases.
Adachi believes hundreds of cases will be affected by this case, since everything the two officers have said in court will now be in question.
“They should be charged with perjury,” he added.
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