A federal judge rejected the usual “I feared for my life” police defense and allowed a civil lawsuit to move forward involving a Black man who was killed in 2015 by San Francisco officers. There’s sufficient evidence to believe the cops used excessive force when they should have de-escalated the situation.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled on Tuesday in a preliminary hearing that Gwendolyn Woods could proceed with her case against the officers who fatally shot her son, Mario Woods, the San Francisco Examiner reported.
The mother argues that the five cops violated a California law by allegedly using excessive force when they gunned down her son in a hale of more than 20 bullets.
The San Francisco district attorney’s office declined in May 2018 to file criminal charges against the officers, the Los Angeles Times reported. Prosecutors decided that the cops were justified in using lethal force because Woods had a knife with a 4.5-inch blade, and the officers feared for their lives.
Judge Orrick, however, has a different view.
On Dec. 2, 2015, the police tried to arrest Woods, 26, as a suspect in a stabbing, according to the police. The officers surrounded Woods and reportedly first fired beanbags and pepper spray.
An autopsy found 21 gunshot wounds, including at least two bullets that struck him in the head and six in the back. Woods was also under the influence of methamphetamine during the attempted arrest.
The judge said Woods’ attorney showed enough evidence “to allow a jury to conclude that by escalating to deadly force in such a situation, officers acted with reckless disregard for Woods’s rights.”
Orrick used a video of the shooting to show that the officers “significantly outnumbered” Woods. During the encounter, Woods “neither brandished the knife nor made verbal threats, but rather made statements a fact finder could infer were suicidal.”
All too often, the police choose to use lethal force instead of de-escalating encounters with Black male suspects. A jury, when presented with video evidence in a similar case, returned a guilty verdict on Oct. 5 against former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke.
More often, though, the police “I feared for my life” defense succeeds—even in cases when the suspect turned out to be unarmed. The acquittal of former Tulsa Officer Betty Shelby for the first-degree manslaughter of Terence Crutcher is just one of many examples.