Mario Woods family lawyers call for independent federal investigation into the December police killing

While protesters shouted down Mayor Ed Lee Monday at a celebration commemorating the birth of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., lawyers for the family of Mario Woods made renewed calls for an independent investigation into Woods’ killing.

The attorneys also asked for a federal review of the San Francisco Police Department’s culture of biased policing.

“We believe the mayor has made a mistake,” said John Burris about the mayor’s call for the police chief to review the department’s use of force policies. “It’s very much like the fox protecting the hen house.”

While there are three parallel investigations into the Dec. 2 killing of Woods at the hands of police, Burris said Monday that the track record of Police Chief Greg Suhr gives him no confidence that any deep look at the department will take place.

That assessment will be worth little, said Burris, unless an outside agency heads the effort.

At Monday’s press conference at the Allen Chapel AME Church — which included NAACP president Amos Brown and Woods’ mother Gwen Woods — Burris said he sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on Jan. 6 asking for an independent investigation into the Woods killing. The letter also asked for the DOJ to look at whether the department as a whole has a pattern, or practices, of bias and unfair policing of minority communities.

A similar call was made last week in the form of a proposed resolution introduced at the Board of Supervisors asking for the federal DOJ to investigate the shooting.

This is all taking place following fairly quick moves by the mayor to handle the fallout from the killing of Woods.

The police commission is creating a new use of force policy, and Suhr has asked the federal DOJ to review the department’s policies around force. Suhr also wrote a department-wide bulletin which requires a use-of-force report any time an officer’s gun is pulled.

The District Attorney, Police Department and the Office of Citizen Complaints are all currently investigating the Woods killing.

But Burris and the Woods family have little faith in the department’s handling of any investigations of police shootings, as all such investigations since 2000 have found police acted in policy. What’s more, Burris took issue with a statement allegedly made by Suhr about the officers acting according to policy. Burris said it is another sign that Suhr is biased when it comes to looking into the actions of his own.

Still, Adante Pointer, another lawyer representing the Woods family, said the chief’s track record clearly makes him the wrong person to head any department reforms or investigation into the Woods affair.

From his bungling of an investigation into a racist text scandal to statements made after several shootings, Pointer said Suhr has shown he has little penchant for taking on real reform.

Suhr didn’t “take the right steps to right the ship” when he had the chance, said Pointer.

Burris went further, saying Suhr’s failure to implement less lethal training options before the Woods shooting make him culpable.

“There is blood on the chief’s hands,” said Burris.

Meanwhile, a group of 108 Bay Area lawyers sent a letter to Lee asking for an independent investigation into the killing.

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Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeinkBlack Lives MatterChief Greg SuhrCrimeGreg SuhrJohn BurrisMario WoodsMayor Ed LeePolice shootingSFPDUse of Force

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