The San Francisco Police Department is being questioned for an alleged use of excessive force after ABC7 News obtained a cell phone video of an incident that occurred Tuesday evening.
Police responded to an attack in an apartment building in the city's South of Market neighborhood, and officers claimed the events that unfolded required more force than usual to resolve. But a troubling cell phone video showing an officer repeatedly punching a subdued suspect has drawn criticism from public voices, including San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. The video was taken by a neighboring witness through a crack in an apartment door.
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"In the video, the officer punches the suspect eight to ten times when he is already on the ground and appears to be subdued," said Adachi to The Huffington Post. "That seems excessive to me."
After ABC released the video, the SFPD sent out a press release detailing the incident and claiming it was a "blue suicide" attempt -- a deliberate attempt by the suspect to force officers to shoot him. Officers allegedly obtained a post on a social networking site that supports the claim.
"The video shows one aspect, if you will, one angle, of what the camera sees; it doesn't show everything that led up to the point in time where the camera starts and so forth," said San Francisco Police Sgt. Michael Andraychak to ABC.
According to a press release from the SFPD, the suspect attacked a neighbor and the apartment manager, and then fled into the street. Police arrived and were investigating the scene when the suspect returned. SFPD stated:
During the course of the investigation, the suspect returned to the building and entered the third floor hallway where he encountered one police officer. [...] Concealing his right hand behind his back the suspect yelled out loud, "I have a gun and I'm going to use it." [...] Believing that the suspect was armed, the officer drew his handgun, pointed it at the suspect and requested back up. The officer held the suspect at bay as the suspect moved his right hand back and forth, behind his back and inside his jacket. During this time the officer noticed that the suspect had an unidentified metallic object in his hand.
The officer's partner arrived and grabbed the suspect from behind, wrestling him to the ground. At this time, the officers engaged the suspect in a violent struggle to control his hands and take him into custody. The suspect attempted to bite one officer's hands and his spit struck the officer in the face. As he did so, the suspect claimed to have a communicable disease. The second officer utilized his Department issued pepper spray, which had no apparent affect on the suspect. When two back up officers arrived, they were alerted to the suspect's assaultive actions and the possibility that he was armed with a gun. Recognized uses of force had little effect on the suspect and with the threat of the suspect being armed with a gun, it was necessary to quickly gain control. One of the backup officers was forced to punch the suspect multiple times with a closed fist.
But Adachi was unconvinced, arguing that the suspect appeared to be contained before additional officers arrived.
"What we see is a man who is down on the ground, two officers appear to be on top of him, other backup officers come and the one officer just starts hitting him," he said to ABC.
In the press release, the police also claimed that further investigation revealed that the suspect was on a suicide mission.
Further investigation revealed that the suspect had posted a message on a social networking site announcing his intention to force police officers to shoot him. He was quoted as stating, "I'm gonna check out. Tonight is the night" and "OK, the cops are coming here, I'm gonna pretend to have a gun and they will shoot me, remember the movie Butch Cassidy."
As of Wednesday, the suspect was being evaluated at a local hospital, but he will be charged with felony threats against a public official, felony battery on a police officer, resisting arrest and two counts of misdemeanor battery upon release.
Watch the disturbing video by ABC7 in the clip below: