An auto burglary suspect who was shot and injured by San Francisco police while officers tried to arrest him last week was unarmed and already being detained when he was struck by gunfire, his attorney said Wednesday.
Xavier Pittman, 23, was suddenly shot in the wrist by police when plainclothes officers were arresting him in an alley called Varney Place near Third and Brannan streets last Friday afternoon, according to his attorney Adante Pointer.
“He had no reason to believe that his life was in danger,” Pointer said. “Essentially he was ready to be brought into custody, but then to be shot, unexpectedly shot, you don’t know what is going to take place at that point… He was scared for his life.”
Multiple law enforcement sources say the shooting is being investigated as a possible unintentional or negligent discharge. The San Francisco Examiner has also learned that the officer whose gun discharged is Officer Zachary McAuliffe.
McAuliffe could face criminal charges for negligent discharge of a firearm if prosecutors can prove he intentionally and recklessly fired his gun. But if the shooting is determined to be an accident, that could offer him legal cover from criminal charges.
An attorney for McAuliffe declined to comment Wednesday. Records show the officer joined the San Francisco Police Department in 2013.
The police shooting unfolded last week when plainclothes officers from Central Station tracked a vehicle carrying a group of auto burglary suspects into the alley.
Video shows Pittman rummaging through items near the trunk of the vehicle when two officers approached him with guns drawn and tried to arrest him, one source said. The other suspects then took off in the vehicle with the trunk still open.
Sources say a physical confrontation ensued between Pittman and the officers, and the suspect was shot in the wrist. He is expected to survive after being taken to a hospital for treatment.
Pointer said the officers were putting Pittman in a control hold when he was struck. He said his client wasn’t engaged in a fight or struggle with police.
“You have a guy who has been overpowered by the police and essentially the shot goes off,” Pointer said. “He didn’t deserve to be shot.”
Pointer said he is considering filing a lawsuit against The City, but first wants to see video of the incident.
The case is under investigation criminally by both the District Attorney’s Office and the SFPD. There is also an active administrative investigation into the shooting by SFPD and an ongoing Department of Police Accountability probe.
Pointer said prosecutors deciding whether to charge the case will likely consider various factors leading up to the shooting, including whether the officer had his gun out or pointed in the direction of a person he did not intend to shoot.
“The analysis on whether or not the officer’s conduct rises to a criminal act does not end with him simply saying that it was an accident and ‘I didn’t mean to fire my firearm,’” Pointer said.
Police have thus far released few details about the shooting and declined to comment Wednesday.
Police are scheduled to hold a virtual community meeting Thursday at 3 p.m. to provide an update on the case and take questions from the public.
As of last Friday, police said the two other suspects who fled the scene remained at large.