The U.S. Department of Justice will conduct a detailed review of the San Francisco Police Department following the December killing of a young black man in an incident involving five police officers, one of whom was white. The death led to protests against the Police Chief Greg Suhr and some demonstrators called for his resignation.
The details of the review, which have not been announced so far, will be released Monday afternoon by the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Brian Stretch and Ronald Davis, director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, will hold a news conference to announce the details, the Justice Department said, according to Reuters.
The review was welcomed by a lawyer for Mario Woods' family. “It is the right and decent thing to do and a step in the right direction toward healing in the African American and Latino communities,” John Burris said in a statement, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Burris also said, according to San Francisco Chronicle: “This can be the first step in healing the division between the minority communities and the Police Department,” adding: “Of course, the investigation should be without limitations and should allow for a wide open investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the policies, procedures and training, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee had asked the Justice Department to investigate Wood’s death, the AP reported.
However, the review also follows reports of racist and homophobic messages that were exchanged among several officers. The messages were reportedly revealed in a court filing by prosecutors in the corruption case of a former officer, AP reported. Although a judge ruled that Suhr did not punish the officers in a timely fashion, Lee has been supportive of the police chief. Since the incident, Lee has asked the police department to make reforms to the way officers use force.
Woods, 26, was shot dead on Dec. 2 and the incident escalated racial tensions in the city.
Suhr claimed that Woods was a suspect in a stabbing and that he was a threat to the police officers. Officers said they tried to first use pepper spray against him and fired bean bag rounds. They claimed he refused to drop the knife he was holding, Reuters reported. A video of the shooting showed one of the officers directly moving in front of Woods, who was trying to walk away, and opening fire.
A statement from police reportedly said the “officers could not allow him room to harm anyone else.” Several people protesting the killing have questioned if the officers used excessive force against him during the confrontation. In December, Woods’ family filed a lawsuit against the shooting stating that the officers should have backed off because he was not trying to fight them. Suhr had said earlier that the officers should have been equipped with Tasers, which could have prevented the shooting.
The U.S. government has opened civil rights probes into killings involving police officers in cities like Chicago, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo., and has found similar patterns of excessive force and racial bias, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The incidents in different states over the past year have also led to resignations of top officials.