San Francisco is denying responsibility and aggressively defending the police officers who shot an unarmed man in the darkened attic of a Parkmerced home they entered without a warrant and where no crime had been committed. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week rejected arguments that they were immune from responsibility and allowed the family's civil lawsuit over the 2006 incident to move forward.
Compounding the fact that the city is pushing hard in the courts in what seems to be a tragic and obviously wrongful shooting is the fact that the officers who did it are still on the streets, with their guns on active patrols, even though one of them was also later indicted for stealing cash from a police evidence locker.
The shooting of 25-year-old Asa Sullivan by Officers Michelle Alvis and John Keesor has been covered extensively by the Guardian, from the early days when police refused to explain why they busted into the home where Sullivan lived to later coverage of communications in which Alvis and Keesor were told to back off by SFPD colleagues but didn't, instead cornering Sullivan in a dark attic and shooting him 16 times because they say they mistakenly thought he had a gun.
We also covered the criminal indictment of Alvis two years later on charges of stealing $2,000 from a police evidence locker. A San Francisco jury later deadlocked on the case and it was dropped by the DA's office. SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Michael Andraychak said he can't comment on any internal discipline actions against the pair or on the current court case, but he did confirm that they are currently assign to Operations, which includes patrol and investigations.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith disputed the notion that the city is defending an inexcusable shooting. “We don't think the shooting was wrongful, we think it was lawful,” he told us. Police were responding to a trespassing call from a security guard in the condo complex when they entered Sullivan's home, and Keith said that seeing a shirt with blood on it gave them the right to enter the home, where they say Sullivan refused to surrender and threatened police.
But attorneys for Sullivan's family dispute the police version of events and their story that the dead man threatened the cops that had cornered him, saying that the officers had no right to enter the house and that they attacked aggressively and didn't heed the recommendation of fellow officers that they back off and de-escalate the situation.
And the court seemed to agree. As Judge Procter Hug wrote in the majority opinion: "Sullivan had not been accused of any crime. He was not a threat to the public and could not escape. He had not initially caused this situation. He had not brandished a weapon, spoken of a weapon or threatened to use a weapon."
But as the Chronicle reported, the San Francisco Police Officers Association and other police groups fear the ruling will make officers liable for mistakes made during split second decisions. Well guess what, guys: It's a tough job, for which you're very well paid, and there need to be consequences when you murder innocent, unarmed civilians. And frankly, I think this precedent is just great because it will hopefully make cops think twice before they err on the side of just opening fire when things get tense.