Police brutality suit looms in SFPD's shooting of man in wheelchair

A wheelchair-bound man shot by San Francisco police earlier this month has retained an attorney for a possible police brutality lawsuit against The City.

While a claim has yet to be filed, San Francisco attorney Eric Safire said he is determining whether to file a lawsuit on behalf of his client, Randal Dunklin. He said the incident has elements similar to the shooting of a prone man at the Fruitvale BART Station in 2009.

“It seems to me that it’s akin to the Oscar Grant video,” Safire said. “It’s a guy in a wheelchair, and it’s officers who aren’t involved in any immediate danger as far as you can tell.”

Safire has handled several high-profile cases such as the fatal Sonoma County sheriff shooting of 16-year-old Jeremiah Chass, which ended in a $1.75 million settlement. He also defended convicted murderer Charles “Cheese” Heard in a San Francisco case that drew headlines because several of Heard’s friends were detained for intimidating an eyewitness inside a courtroom.

The officer-involved shooting of Dunklin on Jan. 4 in the South of Market area has resulted in a hotbed of controversy. The shooting was caught on video and shows Dunklin discarding what police say was a Buck knife before police opened fire on the man.

Police said Dunklin had previously slashed an officer with that knife, causing a wound that required 21 stitches. Dunklin currently faces criminal charges and is being prosecuted by the office of District Attorney George Gascón.

Gascón was police chief at the time of the shooting, and defended the officers’ actions in the shooting. Public Defender Jeff Adachi has called on Gascón to avoid a conflict of interest by passing the criminal case to an independent agency.

While Gascón has refused to hand off the criminal case, his office has asked Attorney General Kamala Harris to conduct an independent investigation into whether officers used excessive force in Dunklin’s case, District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Erica Derryck said Friday.

An officer-involved shooting is usually investigated by police internal affairs and the District Attorney’s Office. Another recent officer-involved shooting in December that led to the death of a San Francisco man, Vinh Bui, will also be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office, Derryck said.


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