A 57-year-old man who died in The City early Thursday while handcuffed in police custody was wanted in connection with the severe beating of a senior citizen in Sonoma County, according to San Francisco police.
Police say Sonoma County resident Filimoni R. Raiyawa, originally from Fiji, got into a violent struggle with officers before being handcuffed outside an IHOP restaurant in the Marina on Thursday morning. Before his death, Raiyawa — who, according to police and witnesses, was refusing to cooperate with officers — injured two female officers and was himself struck repeatedly with batons.
The incident unfolded after Raiyawa, who was driving a mini-van, reportedly rear-ended a BMW on Lombard Street and acted strangely around the driver, who called police to the scene.
About 5:30 a.m. Thursday, Raiyawa was driving a mini-van and rear-ended the BMW at Lombard Street and Richardson Avenue, police said. That collision propelled the BMW into parked vehicles.
When the driver of the car tried to speak with Raiyawa, he appeared agitated and “incoherent,” according to police.
Raiyawa was muttering about “God’s will,” said Chief Greg Suhr.
When Raiyawa got out of the mini-van, he slowly walked toward the driver of the BMW, who was approaching the mini-van.
Fearing what the mini-van’s driver might do, the BMW’s driver fled and was followed around the block. Eventually he called police. Shortly thereafter, two female officers arrived in the area and located Raiyawa, who fit the description of the mini-van driver, Officer Carlos Manfredi said.
On Lombard Street between Pierce Street and Richardson Avenue, the two female officers and Raiyawa got into an altercation when he struck one of them in the face, said Suhr. The other officer was knocked to the ground and into a fence, which toppled.
“He threw one officer to the ground and punched another officer several times,” said
Northern Police Station Capt. Greg McEachern at the scene Thursday morning.
Raiyawa then crossed Pierce Street and banged on the door of the IHOP. By this time, more officers had arrived — six to eight ended up at the scene — and managed to handcuff Raiyawa in front of the Surf Motel.
Police called an ambulance, and said Raiyawa began to experience a “medical emergency” while waiting for the ambulance. He was having trouble breathing, so police they turned him over and administered CPR.
“He was handcuffed,” said McEachern. “They realized that he wasn’t breathing.”
Medics arrived about 10 minutes later, but Raiyawa was already dead. The cause of death remains unknown.
After Thursday morning’s incident in The City, SFPD learned from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office that Raiyawa had been wanted in connection with the bludgeoning of a 97-year-old man who received life-threatening injuries, and is not expected to survive. The SFPD also confirmed the mini-van involved in the Richardson Drive hit-and-run was the same vehicle Raiyawa used to flee from the Sonoma County crime scene.
Suhr, who spoke at a news conference Thursday afternoon, said he watched a video recording of the SF incident. In that video, Raiyawa is seen on the ground talking and conscious after being handcuffed. He then appears to start having trouble breathing.
Police said Raiyawa was black, but Suhr said the case does not have racial implications because the officers did not “initiate the contact” and were responding to a call for service.
One of the officers who engaged Raiyawa was treated for head injuries and a concussion, while the other treated for an injury to her hand. Both officers have since been released from the hospital, police said. All officers involved in the incident will be put on paid administrative leave per department policy.
A witness who works at a nearby hotel told the San Francisco Examiner he saw two female police officers following a man on foot on Lombard Street between Scott and Pierce streets.
The officers were reportedly trying to get the man to stop, but he refused.
“He was not driving anywhere, he was walking,” said the witness, who requested to remain anonymous. “They took something out, they were beating on him.”
The witness then saw a scuffle between the officers and man in front of the IHOP, and police batons were reportedly used.
Another witness, Willie Gunnari, who lives at Pierce and Lombard streets, told the Examiner he was awoken by screaming female voices. He looked out of a window to see two female officers trying to detain a man who appeared to be at least 6-foot-3 and more than 250 pounds.
“Nothing they did phased this guy at all,” Gunnari said. “They were really whacking the shit out of him. I could hear it in their voice; they were scared for their lives.”
Gunnari said the officers were telling the man to get on the ground, but he wasn’t listening.
“I think he was saying, ‘Stop hitting me,’” Gunnari said.
The death comes as policing tactics nationwide, especially between officers and minority communities, are being criticized as too aggressive.
Earlier this month, a black woman from Texas named Sandra Bland reportedly hanged herself in a jail cell after being arrested during a routine traffic stop for allegedly assaulting an officer. This week an Ohio cop pleaded not guilty to murder in a case involving a black man who was fatally shot after being pulled over for a missing front license plate.
Some, including local politicians, are seemingly warning their constituents about too quickly seeing this incident in the context of recent police brutality.
On Thursday afternoon, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed and Supervisor Malia Cohen — The City’s two black supervisors — issued a joint statement about the incident.
They expressed grief over the death and injuries to the officers, while calling for “all parties involved to cooperate fully” in a “proper and transparent independent investigation.”