The officers who shot and killed a Guatemalan man in the Mission District in 2015 will not face criminal charges, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced Wednesday.
The announcement today ends a more than two-year-long criminal investigation into the death of Amilcar Perez-Lopez, 21, who was killed in a confrontation with officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli on Feb. 26, 2015 in the area of Folsom and 25th streets.
The shooting has prompted a lawsuit filed on behalf of Perez-Lopez’ family and calls from activists for the officers involved to be charged.
However, Gascón Wednesday said at a press conference an evaluation of forensic evidence, surveillance videos, two autopsy reports and witness statements, as well as reports from outside experts who were asked to examine the evidence, supported the officers’ account of what happened:
“The law gives significant deference to officers in situations in which they have to make split second decisions. … For officers to be charged in the death of Mr. Perez-Lopez, we would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers did not act in self defense or in the defense of others.”
“There is insufficient evidence for charges to be filed against officers Reboli or Tiffe.”
Perez-Lopez was shot and killed around 9:45 p.m. after Tiffe and Reboli responded to a report of a man running down Folsom Street with a knife, chasing another man.
Police said the officers arrived a minute later, saw a suspect with a knife and drew their firearms, ordering him to drop the knife before firing a short time later.
According to the account laid out in the district attorney’s office report, the arriving officers said they found Perez-Lopez and the victim, identified as Abraham P., standing on opposite sides of a parked car.
The two approached, identified themselves and ordered Perez-Lopez away from the car, according to the report.
Tiffe approached and attempted to pull Perez-Lopez away from the car, at which point he allegedly lunged at him with a large knife in his right hand. Tiffe then pulled his firearm and ordered Perez-Lopez to drop his knife.
Reboli saw the struggle and approached, at which point Perez-Lopez began moving toward him, allegedly making slashing movements with his. Reboli backed up, reached for his weapon and told Perez-Lopez to drop the knife, before opening fire.
Tiffe saw Perez-Lopez turn and also opened fire because he thought he was going after Abraham P., the report said. At that point, Perez-Lopez fell to the ground.
Community activists have raised concerns about the shooting, including the fact that autopsy reports indicate Perez-Lopez was shot in the back. They have suggested that he may have been fleeing from officers when he was shot.
Gascón Wednesday said that outside experts reviewed the evidence and said it appeared that Perez-Lopez may have been facing officers at the time that they initiated fire but turned as he was struck by gunfire.
In addition, Gascón noted, the law would still find the officers justified in opening fire if Perez-Lopez was turned away from them because they believed Abraham P. to be at risk.
The evidence also does not support reports that the knife chase was already over by the time Reboli and Tiffe arrived, or that Perez-Lopez had dropped the knife before officers fired, the report found.
In addition, activists have questioned whether the plainclothes officers clearly identified themselves, or whether Perez-Lopez understood enough English to know what they were saying to him.
Gascón said the evidence from witnesses and others indicates the police shouted at Perez-Lopez and made attempts to identify themselves.
Whether he understood them or not, Gascón said, would be “speculation.”
Attorney Arnoldo Casillas, who is representing Perez-Lopez’ family, Wednesday said the decision came as no surprise as “prosecutors will make every effort to give the officers the benefit of every doubt.”
Casillas said the inconsistencies in the officers’ statements are “deep and meaningful,” and would have led to a prosecution in a case that did not involve police officers:
“Here, because the killers were police officers, Mr. Gascón has shied away from his duty to do justice. … It is a shame that the District Attorney would not carry out his duty to impartially apply the law.”
San Francisco Police Officers Association President Martin Halloran said in a statement the decision made it clear the officers were not guilty of any crime, but that the incident was still “tragic for everyone involved”:
“We cannot let this pain be a wedge between us. … Instead it should motivate us to work together as a community to prevent future tragedies from taking place.”