Lawyers for Mario Woods’ family downplay claims by City that officers acted legally when they killed him

Claims by San Francisco’s City Attorney that police acted lawfully when they shot and killed Mario Woods are part of an effort to change the narrative around the shooting, said lawyers representing Woods’ family in a federal lawsuit.

“It’s really a public relations response for the City Attorney’s office,” said John Burris, who added that ultimately it’s up to the District Attorney to decide whether the five police who opened fire broke the law.

Burris was speaking in response to a new motion filed by The City in the civil rights case he’s pursuing on behalf of Woods’ mother, Gwendolyn Woods.

The City Attorney’s Office filed their motion Friday claiming the officers who fired at Woods Dec. 2 acted within the law and were justified in doing so.

“The officers’ actions were well within the settled parameters regarding the use of lethal force by police,” said the motion. “When a subject refuses to disarm and refuses to surrender peacefully, officers may use such force as necessary to protect the public and themselves, and to effect the arrest.”

But Burris said the City Attorney’s rationale is specious.

“My position is ‘no they did not’ (act within the law) and that the force they used was excessive,” said Burris in response to the filing. “Shooting someone in the back 20 times is not legal.”

Burris went on to say that The City’s position is the same in nearly all police shootings, and is part of their legal strategy in the case.

Woods’ autopsy, released Thursday, said Burris, confirms that Woods was not acting aggressively since he was shot numerous times in the back.

Woods was shot and killed by five officers in the Bayview Dec. 2 after police responded to reports of a man with a knife who had allegedly stabbed someone. The shooting, caught on several cell phone videos, captured the killing and went viral on social media.

The shooting has since sparked a small but vocal protest movement, buttressed by the national Black Lives Matter movement, who have called for the firing of Police Chief Greg Suhr, the prosecution of the officers involved and an independent investigation.

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