Body-worn camera footage shows Oliver Barcenas fleeing from a police officer shortly before he was shot in June 2018. (Courtesy SFPD)

SF to pay six-figure settlements in police excessive force lawsuits

San Francisco is preparing to pay $455,000 to settle two separate lawsuits alleging excessive force over an officer shooting a man in the back in North Beach and a sergeant colliding with a skateboarder at Dolores Park.

Attorneys have tentatively reached a $180,000 settlement over the June 2018 shooting of Oliver Barcenas on a Grant Street sidewalk and a $275,000 agreement over skateboarder Anthony Economus being injured while bombing a hill along Dolores Street in July 2017.

While unrelated, both cases raised questions around whether officers are held accountable for their alleged transgressions.

A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office stressed that neither proposed settlement includes an admission of liability.

‘We need to do better than this’

Barcenas ran away when Officer Joshua Cabillo detained him and his friends for standing on a corner with an open beer bottle shortly after the Golden State Warriors’ championship win on June 9, 2018.

Cabillo gave chase and fired two shots on a crowded sidewalk — missing once — when Barcenas drew a pistol equipped with an extended magazine from his waistband and threw it into the street.

Jeffrey Bornstein, an attorney for Barcenas, argued that his client did not threaten Cabillo or anyone else on the street with the weapon. He criticized Cabillo for discharging his firearm on a crowded street.

Bornstein also questioned whether the San Francisco Police Department should have hired Cabillo when, as an officer for the South San Francisco Police Department, he fatally shot a teenager who allegedly reached for a gun in 2012.

“We thought that was something that should have been screened out before he was hired,” Bornstein said. “And if they did hire someone like that, they should have been more trained and supervised.”

Cabillo was also among the SFPD officers named in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in 2015 over the alleged beating of a 23-year-old man.

He is now a union representative for the San Francisco Police Officers Association at Central Station. Bornstein called that “extremely troubling.”

“We need to do better than this,” he said. “If we are learning anything about what is happening in our country, we need police officers who will hold themselves and their fellow officers to the highest standards possible.”

SFPOA President Tony Montoya defended Cabillo in a statement.

“Officer Cabillo was confronted by an armed suspect and pursued that suspect,” Montoya said. “Officer Cabillo performed his duty at great risk to himself and protected the public from an armed fleeing suspect.”

John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said the lawsuit ended with a “reasonable outcome.”

“Resolving this case at this stage for an amount far less than the cost of continued litigation is in the taxpayers’ interests,” Cote said. “It should not be considered a reflection of The City’s likelihood of success on the merits.”

Cabillo was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in both the Barcenas shooting and in the killing of 15-year-old Derrick Gaines.

Barcenas pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm in March 2019 as a result of the incident. Now 30, he is currently serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison.

He has survived not just one but two police shootings by SFPD.

In 2012, Barcenas was carrying a gun with an extended magazine when then-Sgt. Toney Chaplin shot him during a foot chase in the Mission District. Chaplin later became acting chief of the SFPD and is now chief of the Hayward Police Department.

“He is kind of unlucky,” Bornstein said.

‘An outrageous act’

On July 11, 2017, cameras rolled as Economus and dozens of other skateboarders flew down the street for the annual Dolores Park “Hill Bomb.”

While other officers watched, Sgt. Flint Paul allegedly stepped into the path of 19-year-old Economus and used his shoulder to knock him over. The collision sent Economus flying into the hood of a nearby police car and onto the ground.

Attorney John Burris, who represented Economus, called the conduct “an outrageous act.”

“There was no need to be that physical,” Burris said.

But attorneys for The City argued in court records that Economus caused the collision through “his own recklessness.”

Burris’ firm filed a lawsuit in federal court in January 2018 alleging civil rights violations, but a judge dismissed the claims. The case was then filed for negligence and excessive force in state court, where attorneys reached the proposed settlement.

A spokesperson for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the agreement saved taxpayer dollars and is not an indication of which side would have succeeded at trial.

The case drew attention in late 2018 when Police Chief Bill Scott declined to discipline Paul after the Department of Police Accountability recommended a three-day suspension for failing to comply with crowd control policies and inappropriate behavior.

In the lawsuit, attorneys for Economus argued that the chief’s decision essentially condoned the “misconduct.”

“When you have those kinds of situations where the chief overrides the findings, it sends a bad message to the public and it also sends a message to the officers that the chief has their back no matter what,” Burris told the Examiner.

“That’s not good,” he said. “That’s business as usual and the public can’t have confidence that the chief will hold his officers accountable.”

Both proposed settlements are pending approval by the Board of Supervisors.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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