In a massive settlement that highlights the impact body-worn cameras have had on monitoring police conduct, San Francisco has agreed to pay $3.25 million to the family of a man shot by an SFPD officer.
The proposed settlement agreement in the case of Sean Moore is the largest of its kind over a police shooting in recent San Francisco history, far surpassing the $400,000 paid to end litigation over the deadly 2015 police shooting of Mario Woods.
Attorneys for his family say the agreement is also the largest pretrial settlement in recent history in a case against the San Francisco Police Department.
Moore was shot and wounded by Officer Kenneth Cha in January 2017 during a physical altercation with Cha and his partner Officer Colin Patino on the stairway leading up to his home in Oceanview. He later died of causes determined to be related to the shooting in January 2020 while serving a sentence on an unrelated matter at San Quentin State Prison. He was 46.
The shooting was the first of many to be recorded on a body-worn camera by San Francisco police. Attorneys for the family say said the footage contradicted statements made by police in the case and showed the officers were unlawfully on his doorstep.
“The video allows the public to pull the curtain back on how these interactions actually go,” said attorney Adante Pointer, who represented the family alongside attorney Patrick Buelna. “This video showed what’s really going on on the streets and this is why videos like this and others like it have provided such a push and demand for reform of the Police Department.”
The settlement agreement is not an admission of liability by the SFPD or The City.
“We believe this proposed settlement is an appropriate resolution given the inherent costs of continued litigation,” said John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office.
But Buelna said the size of the settlement shows the allegations against the SFPD were not frivolous. He said the case was resolved “because they did not want this to go in front of a jury of the community.”
The federal civil rights lawsuit alleged police used excessive force against Moore, among other claims. Pointer called the case “Exhibit A” for how not to interact with the community or escalate a situation.
The shooting unfolded after a neighbor called police to report that Moore was violating a restraining order by banging on a wall that adjoined their homes in the middle of the night. When Cha and Patino rang his doorbell, Moore told the officers to “get the f—- off my stairs” and repeatedly questioned why they were there.
Attorneys alleged the officers ignored their de-escalation training despite Moore displaying “obvious” signs of mental illness. The video shows Cha pepper sprayed Moore when he opened his gate. After Moore kicked at the officers, Cha descended the stairs and told Moore, “What’s up? Come on. Come here,” according to the video.
When Moore later came down the stairs to grab something off the ground, the officers rushed him and Patino is shown striking Moore with a baton. Patino said Moore punched him in the face, breaking his nose and causing him to fall down the stairs. The City Attorney’s Office argued that Moore was trying to kick the officers down the stairs when Cha opened fire in defense of himself and others as he fell backward.
“This is Exhibit A on how you turn what could have just been your ordinary, garden-variety police contact into a death,” Pointer said. “We are hopeful that the other officers took notice here and know not to conduct themselves in the same way.”
Years after the incident, the District Attorney’s Office has not decided whether to file criminal charges against Cha and Patino in the case. A spokesperson declined to comment Tuesday.
Police records show both officers remained on the force as of late 2020. Cha was assigned to Investigation Bureau, while Patino was assigned to Field Operations.
Moore faced assault and other charges in connection with the incident, but a judge tossed most of the case finding the officers did not have probable cause to arrest him and remain on his stairs.
The settlement agreement has been introduced to the Board of Supervisors and is pending approval.
While both Moore and his father died during litigation over the shooting, Buelna said the settlement will bring “some sort of peace” to his mother and brother who are still living.
“It’s bittersweet justice,” Buelna said.