A San Francisco jury Tuesday acquitted a homeless, wheelchair-bound man with mental health issues of stabbing a police officer in January, in a high-profile case captured on bystander video that showed officers subsequently shooting the man multiple times.
The Jan. 4 shooting of Randal Dunklin outside a Department of Public Health building in the South of Market neighborhood — where Dunklin had reportedly been seeking services — prompted calls for more training for officers in dealing with mentally ill persons. The Police Department is now in the process of implementing a new Crisis Intervention Training program, expected to begin at the end of the year.
Dunklin’s trial began in October. The jury deliberated nearly five days before finding the 56-year-old not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon on one officer who was stabbed in the arm. The jury hung on a charge of assaulting another officer after Dunklin threw his knife, which landed at the officer’s foot.
The jury also hung on charges that Dunklin resisted or threatened police, but found him guilty of two misdemeanors, vandalism and brandishing a knife.
“I’m very pleased that he wasn’t convicted of any felonies,” Dunklin’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris said. Dunklin still faces up to a year-and-a-half in jail at his sentencing Friday. Harris said she is trying to get Dunklin into a residential mental health treatment facility.
“We are naturally disappointed with the verdict,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “Mr. Dunklin’s reckless actions put the community’s safety at risk.”
Harris had argued that plainclothes officers had no need to shoot Dunklin, whom they initially encountered on the sidewalk, where he had been vandalizing city vehicles and lobbing chunks of concrete.
Harris told jurors in closing arguments that Dunklin stabbed one officer in the arm in self-defense, after he was “surrounded and blasted in the face” by pepper spray. She said officers showed “bad judgment” in the way they handled Dunklin and asserted that the subsequent investigation showed how the police “power structure operates to protect its own.”
“The men who shot him were being patted on the back and told what a great job they were doing,” Harris said.
Dunklin was hit in the side and groin, and survived.
Prosecutor Sanaz Nikaein said officers did everything they could to avoid using lethal force, including pepper spray and a beanbag weapon. Police ordered a screaming and swearing Dunklin nearly 50 times to drop his knife, and he refused, she said.
“Officers come and you brandish a knife?” Nikaein told the jury. “That’s self-defense?”
A civil lawsuit filed in federal court by Dunklin against the two officers who shot him is still pending.