By C.W. Nevius
January 15, 2016 Updated: January 15, 2016 5:21pmWednesday, Dec. 9, 2015.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr calls it “beyond frustrating.”
He’s perfectly willing to engage in the dialogue about how the Dec. 2 fatal shooting of Mario Woods was handled by his police officers. Although he initially defended his officers after the shooting, it’s clear Suhr has some real concerns about how it went down.
But he’s finding himself caught up in a fog of innuendo, accusation and rumor. There have been suggestions that he fabricated an assault at a Dec. 9 Police Commission meeting and that the person police say Woods stabbed doesn’t exist. He’s also had a death threat that was credible enough that he was given extra security.
“When it gets crazy the facts don’t seem to mean anything,” he said.
It began with the assault at the raucous Police Commission meeting last month. A local independent media outlet questioned accounts in The Chronicle (including this column) of Suhr getting “kicked and punched” at the meeting, noting that there was no police report or arrest made. The headline was: “Was the Chief really assaulted?”
Suhr said the accusations are doubly irritating. First, he said, he was kicked at the meeting.
“I was kicked in the side of the knee on the way back from the bathroom,” he said. “I never said I got punched.”But, he said, the more troubling implication “is the suggestion that I would lie about it.”
In fact, Suhr said his plan was to let the incident go and not even mention it publicly.
“Tempers were running high. I got that,” he said. “I wasn’t hurt. I did not make a complaint. And did that really seem to be the meeting to make an arrest?”
More importantly, he said, he did not go to the media.
“Whoever broadcast that it happened, it wasn’t me,” Suhr said.
That person is Gary Delagnes, the retired president of the Police Officers Association. Does Delagnes think he’s helping Suhr with such exaggerations? Because otherwise it seems he’s actively undermining the chief of police.
If the city is going to move past this, it’ll have to get over the bluster and overheated rhetoric.
“This is a time for humility and contrition,” Suhr said. “Not braggadocio and arrogance.”
Apparently the police association disagrees. Taking his cue from Delagnes, police association President Marty Halloran claims that the backlash from the Woods’ shooting is just another example of how city officials have it in for cops. In the POA Journal, Halloran writes about how local politicians “followed the other sheep blindly down the path of political expediency and made uninformed, ignorant and at times derogatory and inflammatory public statements.”
Way to calm things down, Marty.
This is particularly important because protesters, who are genuinely upset, are ready to seize on any implication that the local cops are biased or racist. It doesn’t help that 14 San Francisco police officers were found to have been sending the worst sort of homophobic and racist text messages to each other.
Suhr wanted to fire eight of the worst offenders, but a Superior Court judge ruled that the department did not act quickly enough, and the statute of limitations had run out. That ruling has been appealed.
“If we win the appeal, and I am optimistic, I would hope that those clowns would just resign and be seen as the racists they are,” Suhr said.
But that could take months. In the meantime, rumors rule. Woods was shot by police after a 911 call alleging that he had stabbed someone. But now, weeks later, because the victim’s name has not been released — reportedly for his safety — a whisper campaign has sprung up implying that there was no attack and that the victim might not even exist.
“Anybody saying he doesn’t exist is not from the Bayview,” Suhr said. “Certainly people in the neighborhood know who he is. The medical record is at the hospital, and he was interviewed by homicide.”
Changes under way
And if Suhr had any doubts about the depth of anger, there was the death threat. The department took it seriously, finding and arresting the suspect.
“I’ve had threats before,” he said, “but we knew this one particular guy, we knew he was in San Francisco and he had that history.”
In the meantime, Suhr has requested a review of the shooting by the Department of Justice, made changes to firearm training, issued protective shields and attended the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., where the topic was “engaging suspects with edged weapons.”
“We gotta be better,” Suhr said. “It’s a new game, a new day and a whole new definition of common sense.”
That sounds like a message even the protesters would like to hear.
If anyone is listening.