San Francisco Chief Deputy Paul Miyamoto in a July 12, 2019 file photo. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Sheriff candidate defends deputies involved in fatal dog shooting

Public defender calls incident ‘preventable and unnecessary’

Sheriff hopeful Paul Miyamoto is standing up for a group of deputies who have been facing criticism over a shooting that allegedly wounded a man and killed his dog at a residential hotel earlier this month.

The four deputies were serving an arrest warrant at the Broadway Hotel on Sept. 5 when one of them used a battering ram to enter a room and another shot the pit bull that came out. The bullet is also said to have struck the hand of 33-year-old David Wesser, who was wanted for missing a court date days earlier on a burglary charge.

Public Defender Manohar Raju has since called the shooting a “preventable and unnecessary tragedy.” In a letter to retiring Sheriff Vicki Hennessy earlier this month, he said the deputies were primed to fire their guns and blamed them for failing to take any precautions before starting to shoot.

Miyamoto agrees with Raju that the shooting could have been avoided but faults Wesser for how the incident unfolded rather than the deputies.

“It’s preventable in that if he had just opened the door there would not have been a breach,” Miyamoto said in a recent editorial board meeting with the San Francisco Examiner. “It’s preventable in that if there was control of the dog there may not have been a situation which led to the tragedy that resulted involving his dog.”

Miyamoto is the only candidate in the running to succeed Hennessy and currently serves as a chief deputy.

He has been with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for more than two decades and is aligned with Hennessy on many of her policy positions.

The incident earlier this month marked the first deputy-involved shooting for the department since 2012.

The shooting was partially captured on surveillance footage by a camera in the hallway. The footage shows two plainclothes deputies standing outside the door and pacing the hallway for some time before two uniformed deputies arrive. One of the deputies in plainclothes then forces open the door and a pit bull pops out.

The video next shows the second plainclothes deputy point his gun at the dog and into the room. The deputies then pull Wesser out into the hallway and place him on the ground in handcuffs, where he remains until paramedics arrive and treat his finger.

“I don’t think they needed to have their guns out,” Raju told the Examiner last week. “There is not an assumption that because someone is not answering their door, therefore they are about to fire a gun. If it were anyone else doing that and they fired when they opened the door and the dog barked, they’d be charged with attempted murder.”

Raju was speaking during a separate editorial board meeting with the Examiner. He is running for public defender after being appointed to the role following the death of Jeff Adachi in February.

Raju said the deputies should have found another way to serve the warrant or come back another time.

“The consequence for [missing] a court date obviously cannot be getting shot, so can we think of a more humane way to get people to court?” Raju said.

An attorney for the deputies previously said they had waited for more than 40 minutes for Wesser to come out before using the battering ram.

The deputies have been identified by the Sheriff’s Department as Richard Balmy, Paul Lozada, Julio Molina and Viridiana Ponce. A spokesperson has declined to say which deputy opened fire.

The department has also disputed whether Wesser was shot during the incident, but medical records provided by the Public Defender’s Office show he was treated for a gunshot wound at the hospital.

Miyamoto was speaking as a candidate in his meeting with the Examiner rather than as chief deputy. He defended the deputies but stopped short of saying they acted properly, citing multiple ongoing investigations into the incident.

“We’ll wait until the investigation determines the totality of the circumstances but there are times when we have to force entry when we know the person is there,” Miyamoto said. “We try to stay prepared when those things happen.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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