Against the backdrop of a nationwide uprising over the police killing of George Floyd, two mayoral nominees seeking seats on the oversight board charged with holding San Francisco police accountable faced stiff opposition Monday.
At the end of a seven-hour long hearing, the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee voted 2-1 to recommend that the full board reject the nominations of Nancy Tung and Geoffrey Gordon-Creed to the Police Commission.
Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Gordon Mar voted against the nominations, with Supervisor Catherine Stefani in dissent. The nominees from Mayor London Breed will now need six votes to clear the full board.
The vote came after Ronen grilled the candidates on hot button issues including police shootings and arming officers with stun guns.
During several hours of public comment, critics scrutinized Tung for saying she did not believe the officers who shot and killed Mario Woods and Jessica Williams in two high-profile San Francisco police shootings should be charged or fired.
Gordon-Creed declined to take a stance on the police shootings, saying only that neither should have happened. Commenters argued that the private practice attorney lacked the qualifications to serve on the Police Commission.
“I am truly frankly surprised that in this moment in history, the mayor would choose two candidates that are not recognized leaders in the police reform and police accountability movement,” Ronen said, adding that she does not believe the nominees are “the right representatives” to implement change.
Stefani argued that the supervisors should trust the recommendations of Breed, a black woman who has advocated for police reform and grew up in public housing. She also noted that progressive former District Attorney George Gascon declined to charge the officers involved in the Woods or Williams cases, citing the need for changes in the law.
“I see that everyone has a flaw here or there but I don’t think it’s enough for me to say, ‘no mayor, I am not going to respect your appointments,’” Stefani said. “I still think they can rise to the challenge and they can meet the need that we all have, which is to reform our criminal justice system and to do it quickly so that we don’t have any more of these killings.”
But Mar argued that the vote was not a referendum on the record of Breed or Gascon.
“Frankly, ‘I trust the mayor’ is not a position, it’s a cop out,” Mar said. “This is about the qualifications of Mr. Gordon-Creed and Ms. Tung to serve on the Police Commission at this critical moment.”
The hearing opened with supervisors like Ronen, Matt Haney and Dean Preston stressing the importance of the Police Commission at a time when protesters are rallying against police brutality in cities across the U.S. including San Francisco.
The commission is responsible for imposing discipline against officers and setting police policy. It has also played an oversight role as the San Francisco Police Department has slowly completed federal recommendations for reform.
Tung, a local prosecutor who was known as the law-and-order candidate in the recent district attorney’s race, has garnered support for being a potential voice for the Chinese American community on a commission that currently lacks one.
During the hearing, she highlighted her experience handling police misconduct cases as a former assistant district attorney for San Francisco, where she tried an off-duty SFPD officer for domestic violence and a local deputy sheriff for assault.
As a commissioner, Tung said she would prioritize police reforms and ensure that they are “not just paper promises.”
“They need to make good on their promise to San Franciscans,” Tung said. “I would like to see that at least half of them are completed by the end of the year.”
Tung has faced criticism for supporting arming officers with stun guns and accepting $500 from the San Francisco Police Officers Association as a candidate for district attorney.
But she reversed her position on Tasers during the hearing, saying her stance had “softened” even before Floyd’s death.
“There is so much strife and so much distrust in the Police Department from communities of color, and I cannot support Tasers,” she said.
She also condemned the police union distributing “Thin Blue Line” face masks to officers who responded to protest wearing the controversial coverings last month.
“The Police Commission should have immediately denounced that,” Tung said. “There is no place for that type of intimidation in public service.”
Meanwhile, Gordon-Creed, a former deputy city attorney who has worked in private practice since 1994, said he became interested in policing after the Rodney King beating in 1991.
“That was a wake up call for recognition of my own privilege and my status as a white man,” Gordon-Creed said. “I was shocked by these events because they did not happen to people like me. They happened to poor black men.”
At the City Attorneys Office, Gordon-Creed defended city agencies including the Police Department. He described representing officers as an “eye-opening experience” that offered a window into the culture of policing in San Francisco.
“It was different back then,” Gordon-Creed said. “It has improved over the years. It has not improved nearly to the extent that it needs to improve and some things haven’t changed.”
Gordon-Creed said he has defended officers in use-of-force cases and believes that officers should use the least amount of force necessary. He also represented the Police Commission and the Office of Citizen Complaints, now known as the Department of Police Accountability, in a case over whether the statute of limitations had expired to pursue discipline against an officer.
“I came to understand the work of the Police Commission,” Gordon-Creed said.
As for the issues, Gordon-Creed said he would not support arming officers with Tasers. He said he did not have enough facts to voice an opinion on whether the officers who shot Woods and Williams should be fired or charged.
Breed nominated both Tung and Creed on April 16. Under the City Charter, the Board of Supervisors has 60 days to approve or reject a nomination, or else the person is automatically confirmed to the Police Commission.