Settlement Reached in Luis Góngora Case: Attorneys say White San Francisco Cops Shot Homeless Mayan Man in the Head from Above, while He was Either Sitting Down or Lying Prone on the Ground


From [MIssionLocal] The family of Luis Gongora Pat, the homeless Mexican immigrant police shot and killed in the Mission District in 2016, has settled a federal civil lawsuit with the city of San Francisco.

Although attorneys representing the family would not confirm the settlement nor the amount of the award, court records filed Wednesday reveal that Gongora Pat’s family have reached an agreement with city that must now be ratified by Board of Supervisors. This will likely happen in May.

Until then, all parties are bound to keep the terms of the settlement confidential.

The agreement comes nearly three years after Sgt. Nate Steger and Officer Michael Malone shot 45-year-old Gongora Pat six times at a homeless encampment at 18th and Shotwell streets on April 7, 2016.

The two officers and other civilian witnesses have alleged that Gongora Pat threatened the officers with a large knife, prompting the fatal shooting, while witnesses at the homeless encampment claim Gongora Pat was not wielding the knife, which would cast doubt on the justification for the shooting.

Video of the incident captures the officers shooting Gongora Pat a mere 30 seconds after exiting their vehicles. This raised enduring questions about how — and if — the SFPD properly uses “time and distance” when engaging with people in crisis.

Racist suspect District Attorney George Gascon last May declined to file criminal charges against the officers, sparking protests outside of the Hall of Justice and even Gascon’s home. The fatal shooting was among several that prompted calls for the ouster of Greg Suhr, then the San Francisco Police Chief.

Suhr resigned May 19, 2016, at the request of Mayor Ed Lee, hours after police shot and killed 27-year-old Jessica Williams in Bayview.

The recently settled lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in October 2016, alleges that the SFPD — and, consequently, the City of San Francisco — violated Gongora Pat’s civil rights and that his “wrongful death” was a product of the officers’ negligence.

The lawsuit cites eyewitness accounts and video evidence that Gongora Pat was not facing officers during the shooting that “left him riddled with bullets in his forehead, back, right arm and chest while leaving his wife a widow and his three kids fatherless.” The lawsuit also notes the officers repeatedly gave commands only in English, while Gongora Pat’s primary language was Mayan.

Attorneys for the Góngora family presented video and photographic evidence that they say shows that police officers shot Góngora from above, while he was either sitting down or lying prone. Photographs from a private autopsy show that Góngora was shot in the top of his head, as well as in the back, both arms, and the abdomen.

“The officer can be seen shooting down at the wounded man, with a handgun in one hand and a shotgun in the other, in a scene reminiscent of a gangster movie,” the claim states.

In an enlarged, slow-motion version of surveillance video, previously released by the San Francisco Chronicle, shows a partial view of the shooting. One of the officers can be seen firing three rounds.

“If you slow down this clip, you will witness that the officer who initially had the shotgun is pointing downward,” said Adante Pointer, one of the attorneys. “Mr Góngora was already down on the ground when this officer decided to pump three shots into his body.”

Two white San Francisco police officers fired four beanbags and then seven bullets at him within 30 seconds of stepping out of their patrol vehicles, video footage of the incident shows. The surveillance video provides a clear picture of some aspects of the encounter but does not show what 45-year-old Luis Gongora — was doing at the moment police opened fire. Gongora was just outside the camera’s frame.

The incident began when city homeless outreach workers — who had responded to a report of a disturbance in a homeless encampment — called 911 to say a man was waving a large kitchen knife. Officers arrived minutes later.

The footage obtained by The Chronicle, taken by a camera on the side of a building, shows three marked patrol cars pulling slowly up to the 400 block of Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th streets and parking in the middle of the roadway. Three officers, all of them men, emerge from the police cruisers. The driver of the car in front gets out with a beanbag shotgun and walks to his left to the sidewalk.

Within 10 seconds of getting out of his car, the officer points the gun at someone out of the frame and shouts, “Get on the ground! Stay on the ground!” The officer is moving forward, and a second officer joins him at his side. A few seconds later the officer with the beanbag gun again shouts, “Get on the ground.”

Moments later, both officers appear to shout at the man, commanding, “Put that down” and “Put it down.” The officers continue to advance and move out of the frame. Two more seconds pass before the first beanbag blast, which is followed by three more in short succession. The officer with the weapon can be heard pumping it to ready it for the next shot. The officers can be heard shouting more orders at the man.

Moments later — within 30 seconds after the first officer got out of his car — a burst of seven gunshots is heard. The two officers are still out of frame when the gunshots begin, but then can be seen retreating back into the frame as they fire the final shots.

A third officer is then heard reporting “Shots fired” over his radio as witnesses on the street cry out in shock and a woman on the opposite sidewalk bursts into a sprint away from the scene. [MORE] and [MORE]

Witnesses at the scene have contradicted the police account. They said Gongora spoke only Spanish, never challenged officers and probably didn’t understand what they were saying before he was shot. The witnesses said there was no one else near Gongora when the officers approached him.

“He didn’t charge the officers,” said John Visor, 33, who was living in a tent on Shotwell Street and said he was roughly 10 feet from Gongora when police arrived. “He was going in circles. He didn’t understand what they were saying. They just shot him. They just shot him.”

Visor said Gongora carried a knife for safety, but that he didn’t have it out when police arrived.

Last Monday evening, Gongora Pat’s family members — including his widow, Fidelia del Carmen May Can, who traveled from the home she and Gongora once shared in Yucatan, Mexico — gathered with 30 others who reassembled his memorial where the shooting took place on Shotwell.

His family members had given depositions related to the lawsuit earlier in the day.

“This is the first time the family is at the site where Luis died,” lawyer and advocate Adriana Camarena said to those in the circle. “This is a very special night for them.

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