SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco's police chief says an officer reported that he told a homeless Latino man in Spanish to drop his knife before police officers fatally shot him.
Police Chief Greg Suhr told a largely hostile crowd at a public meeting Wednesday that several conflicting witness accounts of the April 7 encounter have emerged, including whether Luis Gongora was holding the knife and if the responding officers tried to communicate in both Spanish and English. He said the investigation of the fatal encounter is still in its early stages.
The meeting lasted about three hours and was attended by about 200 people, many of whom chanted for Suhr's dismissal.
Suhr and the San Francisco police have been trying to repair the department's image battered by the discovery of racist text messages exchanged by officers and two recent fatal shootings of minority suspects. Suhr told attendees Wednesday he had no plans to resign and that the police department is overhauling its lethal force policy.
He said the encounter with Gongora began with two city outreach workers responding to reports of a crying baby at a homeless encampment in the city's Mission District neighborhood where Gongora lived. The workers didn't find a baby, but reported that they saw a Latino man aggressively kicking a soccer ball against parked cars. One of the workers called 911 to report a Latino man waving a knife and who appeared to be in an "altered state."
A surveillance video captures three uniformed officers arriving, walking off screen and commanding in English for Gongora to drop to the ground. About 30 seconds later, the sound of a bean bag gun being cocked and fired can be heard immediately followed by seven gunshots.
Suhr said officers and witnesses reported that Gongora was sitting against a wall and lunged at officers with the knife when they approached. The officers said they spoke commands in both English and Spanish.
Two other witnesses reported that Gongora had the knife in his waistband when he was shot. They also said police spoke only in English when they warned Gongora to drop the knife.
Suhr said Gongora was struck by four bean bags and two bullets. He added both officers who hit Gongora are white. The San Francisco medical examiner has not released any more details.
Matt Castro, 40, said he met Gongora 13 years ago when they worked in a San Francisco restaurant together. Castro, who attended the town hall meeting to protest the shooting, said Gongora has a wife and three children in Mexico.
"He was so docile and nice," Castro said. "This didn't need to happen."