In the early-morning hours of April 7, 2013, there was a fracas between two groups of men on Valencia Street a block away from the Mission Police Station.
The first officers on the scene — Ryan Daugherty and officer-in-training Valerie Durkin — encountered a man waving what looked like a pistol in front of the Good Vibrations sex shop. When Freddy Martinez refused to put down the weapon and waved it in the direction of the officers, Daugherty fired his weapon, wounding Martinez and a bystander, police reported.
Some 19 months after the incident, the Police Department on Nov. 12 honored both officers with Silver Medals of Valor for their actions in the incident.
However, the honors came while two investigations into the incident remain open.
The move, some say, puts a cloud over the medal recipients and creates the image in the public eye that the investigations following an officer-involved shooting don’t really matter.
“It’s especially appalling when the investigations have not been completed,” said Xavier Baeza, Martinez’s attorney, who argues that the police version of events diverges with that of some witnesses. Martinez, who was left paralyzed from the waist down, is suing The City in federal court for alleged civil-rights violations.
The investigations into the shooting remain open with several agencies.
As part of an ongoing series looking into police-involved shootings, The San Francisco Examiner analyzed all such recorded incidents since 2000 to gain an understanding of when and why police use lethal force.
Separate investigations by the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit are ongoing.
The internal affairs probe, which acts as the administrative investigation for the Police Department, needs to be complete for police to rule on whether the shooting was in policy. That action is pending.
The District Attorney’s Office investigation looks into whether there was criminal wrongdoing, which could lead to charges. It, too, remains open.
A third body that looks into such matters, the Office of Citizen Complaints, which was asked before a vote about the medals about any open matters pertaining to the case, said no investigation or complaint related to the 2013 incident is open now or was at the time of the awards approval.
While a Police Department spokesman said the administrative process is all but complete pending the district attorney’s letter, which could take years due to a backlog for such documents, a final administrative ruling on the incident has yet to be made.
Meanwhile, the District Attorney’s Office said completion of its investigation rests on more than formalities. And internal affairs’ own Aug. 13 report to the Police Commission lists the Martinez shooting as an open case.
The Police Department’s official explanation does not sit well with Baeza.
Honoring the two police officers while investigations are open could impact his client’s lawsuit against The City, Baeza said. A trial is scheduled for March.
“I think it’s pathetic — that it’s an attempt to honor two officers whose actions were not up to the standards of an objective, reasonable police officer,” Baeza said.
The Police Commission makes final approvals for the department’s highest honors, and it is supposed to be informed when a nominee is under investigation, Commissioner Petra DeJesus said.
When the commission voted to approve the honors in August, DeJesus and her colleagues were told by then-President Thomas Mazzucco and Inspector John Monroe, the commission’s clerk, that no investigations were open.
But those statements were false, as the commission knew the status of the investigations when it voted. Commissioners had a report by internal affairs from Aug. 13 on all open cases, including the Martinez incident.
DeJesus said a policy for such matters should be adopted so everyone can make “informed decisions.”
Mazzucco has argued in the past that officers should not have to wait for honors on the DA, whose investigations can take years even when the department has completed its inquiry.
The commission does not have a rule baring approving medals for officers involved in incidents still under investigation, but DeJesus said at the August meeting that the commission should discuss creating such a rule.
“We have a commitment to ensure our process is comprehensive and thorough,” current Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said. “We are always open to improvements and will review the standing procedures,” she added in a statement, which did not speak to whether the commission plans on looking into changing the status quo.
This is not the first time officers were awarded medals under such circumstances, or the first time the commission seemingly failed to check on such matters.
In 2013, Officer Mary Godfrey was given a Silver Medal of Valor for a 2012 incident. At the time, Mazzucco said Godfrey had been vetted by the OCC and Police Department and had no issue with moving forward with approving her honor.
Former Commissioner Angela Chan was the only commissioner who voted against the approval.
In 2000, the commission held off on awarding medals for two officers involved in a 1998 shooting incident that ended in the death of ad executive John Smart.
While the District Attorney’s Office and internal affairs investigations were complete, the OCC’s was not. After discovering the oversight, the medals, which had already been approved, were put on hold by Dennis Herrera, who was commission president at the time and is now the city attorney.
Herrera’s office did not return a request for comment.
After the issue arose, then-Police Chief Fred Lau told The Examiner that the department’s medal committee would start checking with all the relevant agencies before putting forward nominees.