Man Was Lying Wounded on Ground When Cops Killed Him
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A new lawsuit claims San Francisco police officers abandoned their training when they shot and killed an immigrant “within 30 seconds of confronting him” in April.
Luis Demetrio Gongora Pat, a Mexican immigrant of Mayan descent, was “peacefully sitting against a wall” on the 400 block of Shotwell Street on April 7 when two officers fired on him with bean bag rounds and live ammunition, his wife and children say in their Oct. 7 federal lawsuit.
“The onslaught left him riddled with bullets in his forehead, back, right arm and chest while leaving his wife a widow and his three kids fatherless,” his wife, daughter and two sons say.
Police say Gongora lunged at Officers Michael Mellone and Nate Seger with a 13-inch kitchen knife, but the family says that version is contradicted by eyewitnesses, video and physical evidence.
Entry wounds in Gongora’s back and right side “indicate he was not facing the officers when they opened fire” and surveillance video shows the officers “pointing their guns down toward the ground as they repeatedly fired their guns,” according to the 13-page lawsuit.
The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office said it has eyewitnesses who say that Gongora lunged at the officers with a knife before he was shot.
“We also now know that Gongora was high on methamphetamine at the time of the incident and had a long criminal history,” a City Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said in an email. “Gongora posed an immediate and deadly threat, and our officers’ use of lethal force was necessary and legally justified.”
An autopsy released on Sept. 29 found that Gongora had been shot six times – in his forehead, back of his left shoulder, upper right back, chest and twice in his right forearm. The autopsy also found Gongora had intoxicating levels of methamphetamine, and smaller amounts of THC and caffeine, in his bloodstream.
Former Police Chief Greg Suhr, who resigned in May after a different police shooting, described the incident that led to Gongora’s death at a Police Commission meeting in April.
Suhr said officers ordered Gongora to drop the knife in English and Spanish, but he refused to comply.
The chief acknowledged that witnesses offered differing views on whether Gongora had lunged at officers with the knife before he was shot.
During the Police Commission meeting in April, at least two commissioners asked why the officers did not employ the de-escalation tactics they were trained to use before firing their weapons.
“How do we square the ultimate outcome with the investment we’ve made in training?” Police Commission President Suzy Loftus asked on April 13.
A surveillance video released one day after the incident shows the officers approaching Gongora on the street, but the shooting takes place off camera.
The officers shout, “Get on the ground” and “Put it down” seconds before gunshots ring out.
The family claims one video shows an officer, who started shooting Gongora with rubber bullets from a shotgun, take out his handgun and unload live rounds.
“In a shocking visual image, the officers 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 lawsuit states.
Gongora left his wife, Fidelia Del Carmen May Can, his daughter, Rosana Guadalupe Gongora May, and two sons, Luis Rodlfo Gongora May and Angel De Jesus May.
They seek punitive damages for wrongful death, excessive force, battery, negligence and loss of consortium.
They are represented by civil rights attorney John Burris, who also represents the family of Mario Woods, another high-profile police shooting victim, whose death in December 2015 prompted calls for reform and a federal review of the San Francisco Police Department.
Published by Courthouse News Service.