Sunday, June 12, 2016

For the record: the SFPD murder of Sheila DeToy

San Franciscans are struggling these days to rein in a police department which has killed five civilians in the last two years in circumstances in which officers' justifications for their use of force strain credulity. Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, and Jessica Williams are dead. No officer has been charged or (as far as we know) disciplined. In fact, since 2000, the SFPD has killed 40 civilians; no officers have been charged. A culture of impunity in the SFPD is not new; in the over 40 years I've lived in this city, new cases involving officers mistreating residents have recurred over and over. Calls for reform seem to achieve little. I plan to write an occasional post "for the record" recalling some of these incidents.

For the story of Sheila DeToy, I'll outsource this to Peter Keane writing in the Chron in 2006:

Seventeen-year-old Sheila Detoy was killed by a San Francisco police officer on May 13, 1998. By all accounts, Sheila was a wonderful young girl. She was still just a child, so she had a child's optimism and dreams.

It is now eight years since she was shot dead by a plainclothes San Francisco police officer as she sat as a passenger in a car pulling out of a driveway. The officer was seeking another passenger in the car, a young man who had not shown up for a court appearance on a drug charge. He fired into the car and the bullet tore through Shiela's neck. She bled to death.

What happened next was horrible in its own right. With a cruelty that defies understanding, a department spokesperson issued an official statement just hours after she was killed. He said: "She was no innocent victim. She was trying to live the hip-hop lifestyle."

This cold, and completely false, characterization of Sheila was repeated in every television, radio and newspaper account of the shooting. It seemed that it was not enough that she was brutally slain. For some reason, her character and reputation had to be massacred along with her. So those who loved Sheila not only had to cope with her ghastly killing, they also had to watch as her memory was publicly trashed.

...Now, eight years after Sheila's death, my prediction is that there will never be a hearing on the charges. When the long, losing route through the courts by the [Police Officers Association] finally plays out and a hearing is ultimately set, the officers involved will simply retire and that will be the end of it. So whatever the truth is about Sheila's killing, it will never be determined by an honest examination of the facts and the evidence.

Keane wrote this eight years after her death. The 1998 District Attorney, Terence Hallinan, quickly exonerated Officer Gregory Breslin who fired the shots. The city paid the DeToy family $505,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. Internal administrative charges against Breslin and other officers involved lumbered along inconclusively for several years, but as far as we know, no cops were disciplined.

What makes the account of Sheila DeToy shooting all the more amazing is that its author, Peter Keane, was not just some reporter, but an appointed Police Commissioner (a member of the board that "oversees" the cops), a nationally recognized legal commentator, and dean of Golden Gate University Law School. Many SFPD officers expect to be exempt from challenge, even by the most "solid citizens." And they apparently are.


Catherine Thiemann said...

So sad, and so enraging. Even if Sheila DeToy had been "trying to live the hip-hop lifestyle," she would still be an innocent victim. We're all trying to live some kind of lifestyle.
As the mother of a 17-year-old, my heart breaks for Sheila's family.

Hattie said...

Maybe there is no hope?

janinsanfran said...

There may not be hope -- but I'm not willing to let them put me there. It's just a kind of necessary orneriness.

Michael Strickland said...

Peter Keane is one of my favorite people in San Francisco, and how he doesn't get completely frustrated with the inbred corruption he witnesses every day is beyond me.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Mike: I have a long memory. There will be more of these.

Related Posts with Thumbnails