Brawl fallout

SFPD incident at Valencia Gardens brings new questions, allegations

|
()

D'Paris "DJ" Williams spent his day the same way many San Franciscans did Nov. 15, watching young Miles Scott, aka Batkid, rescue a damsel in distress to the cheers of thousands.

Williams, 20, then biked from downtown to visit relatives in the Valencia Gardens housing project in the Mission District. It was there, as the nation continued cooing over the caped crusader, that two plainclothes police officers pulled Williams onto the ground. Police said they initially pursued Williams into the housing complex because he was coasting his bike on the sidewalk, a traffic violation.

That's when all hell broke loose.

Neighbors quickly came to Williams' defense, fists at the ready. The ensuing brawl was recorded on video and quickly went viral nationally. Fast forward two weeks and two protests later, and Williams' family has joined with prominent attorney John Burris to sue the SFPD, for allegedly using excessive force and violating Williams' civil rights.

"The violence is the grave matter of the entire thing, and the illegal detention and subsequent arrests," Burris told the Guardian. He has not yet filed suit.

As the video went viral, allegations of improper police conduct abounded. Police are now crying foul, too. SFPD Chief Greg Suhr called for wearable cameras for police officers, saying he's confident that it would clear police of wrongdoing.

The question that haunts the community around Valencia Gardens, though, is not only about the use of force. Residents wonder if the police profiled Williams because he's black.

Was he really stopped because of a traffic violation? Or was that just legal justification for the police to search him on suspicion that he was carrying a firearm or controlled substance, which would amount to profiling?

 

TWO SIDES OF THE STORY

 

D'Paris' stepfather, Frank Williams, told the Guardian that his son was in disbelief immediately following the ordeal.

The elder Williams related the story DJ told him.

While walking to his grandma's house in Valencia Gardens, DJ walked with his bike for a bit, then sat on it and scooted it with his feet. Some people he didn't recognize got out of a car nearby, calling "hey come here, come here." As Williams stood in the doorway, "They grabbed him by his jeans and pulled him out," the elder Williams said. "They kept pulling on him, and he's saying 'What did I do? What did I do?' as they started punching him on the side of the face, and dragged him out."

The police shared a different version of the story with reporters.

The plainclothes officers, who remain unnamed, identified themselves as police and displayed their badges, according to the SFPD account. When Williams "failed to comply" with their orders to stop, they caught up to him and attempted to detain him.

"He became combative, resisted arrest, and multiple subjects came out of that residence and formed a hostile crowd around the officers," said Officer Gordon Shyy, a SFPD spokesperson.

When the Guardian asked him to explain the officers' actions in more detail, Shyy said he didn't have that information. The SFPD did not make the incident report public, but Shyy had a copy.

The reason the brawl broke out remains under dispute, but what happened next was captured on video and posted to the Internet.

As the plainclothes officers tried to subdue Williams, a neighbor took a swing with a cane that nearly hit an officer. A policeman threw haymaker punches at a neighbor as bystanders shouted them down. In the end, Williams and three of his cousin's neighbors were taken into custody.

Williams' sister was there, too, watching them fight as she held her newborn.

Video shows the four men who were detained scraped and bloodied, and Williams was bleeding and bruised as the officers took him in. All were taken to San Francisco General Hospital.

Also from this author