District attorney says detectives Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe shot Guatemalan immigrant Amilcar Perez-Lopez, 21, five times in the back in self-defense
Two San Francisco police detectives will not face criminal charges for the 2015 killing of a young Guatemalan immigrant who was shot from behind five times, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Detectives Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe feared for their lives and shot in self-defense after scuffling with Amilcar Perez-Lopez, 20, who lunged at one of them with a 12in knife, the San Francisco district attorney said in a report. This account was contradicted by a number of eyewitnesses in a 2015 Guardian investigation into the shooting.
The plainclothes detectives were in an unmarked police car when they responded on 26 February 2015 to a report of a man chasing another man with a knife. Reboli detained the man getting chased and Tiffe grabbed Perez-Lopez, according to the report. Tiffe told investigators that Perez-Lopez slipped from Tiffes grasp and then lunged at him with the knife while the other officer was coming to help.
An autopsy showed Perez-Lopez was shot five times from behind and a sixth time in the side by both officers, who ended up standing side-by-side as Perez-Lopez ran toward Tiffe, according to the report.
Investigators concluded that Perez-Lopez turned quickly right before the shooting started, explaining why he was shot in the back.
Arnoldo Casillas, a lawyer who represents Perez-Lopezs family, did not return a telephone message seeking comment.
In 2015, Casillas filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family against the city, arguing that the plainclothes officers had not identified themselves and Perez-Lopez was running away from them when he was shot.
In 2009, Tiffe and Reboli were named in a civil lawsuit alleging police brutality. David Magana, a Latino, claimed that four officers from the SFPD beat him with their hands, fists, nightsticks and kicked him with their boots all over his body after mistakenly identifying him as a suspect, according to legal documents. The case was later dismissed.
On Wednesday, the decision to clear the officers in the Perez-Lopez case was praised by the San Francisco Police Officers Association union, which represents the detectives.
We cannot let this pain be a wedge between us, the union president, Martin Halloran, said. Instead, it should motivate us to work together as a community to prevent future tragedies from taking place. This means putting in place smart policies and introducing 21st-century tools that will protect both the public and police officers.
The report came as the San Francisco district attorney, George Gascon, has faced mounting pressure to clear a backlog of investigations into 11 fatal shootings by San Francisco police officers over the last three years. The decision Wednesday was his first involving fatal police shootings in more than two years.
Gascon wants his office to lead all investigations of officer-involved shootings in the city, taking over for a police department rocked by fatal shootings of suspects armed with knives or a stun gun, or driving a stolen car.
The previous San Francisco police chief, Greg Suhr, resigned last summer after a woman driving a stolen car was shot dead and the US Department of Justice late last year issued 200 recommendations for reforms of the police department. The new chief, Bill Scott, has pledged to implement the recommendations quickly.
Gascon obtained funding to create a new unit of six prosecutors and six investigators to investigate police shootings and inmate deaths in the county jail.