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San Francisco Police Brutality Claim Puts Pressure on Next D.A. to Hold Cops Accountable

Ahead of the city’s district attorney election on Tuesday, the alleged baton beating last month of Dacari Spiers has renewed debate over police accountability.

SFPD car
Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

On Oct. 6, Dacari Spiers and his girlfriend were hugging and kissing, leaning against their parked car after spending an evening at San Francisco’s Pier 39 when two police officers approached them and allegedly attacked Spiers with batons. 

According to a legal claim filed four days after the incident, “Mr. Spiers cried out and asked what he had done and begged the officers to stop beating him,” but the police threw him to the ground and struck him after he was handcuffed. The claim said Spiers suffered a broken leg and hand.

As police called an ambulance for Spiers, an officer allegedly told his girlfriend that they had received a phone call reporting someone fitting Spiers’s description who was choking a woman who matched her description. Both Spiers and his girlfriend are Black. Officers documented that Spiers’s girlfriend denied being attacked and showed no signs of physical abuse, according to the claim against the city. 

John Burris, a civil rights attorney known for representing clients in high-profile police brutality cases, filed the claim with the San Francisco city clerk. The claim is demanding “in excess of $25,000” for damages and that the city preserve evidence, including “tapes, logs, and/or other tangible materials.” The city has 45 days to respond to the claim, after which a lawsuit can be filed in the U.S. District Court or Superior Court of California. Burris is no longer representing Spiers, who has sought other counsel.

A San Francisco Police Department spokesperson confirmed that Spiers was arrested for “resisting, obstructing, or delaying a police officer” but said the department was “not able to release any further information,” citing the open investigation.

The alleged incident occurred two days after Mayor London Breed appointed Suzy Loftus to serve as interim district attorney, after former District Attorney George Gascón resigned to run for the job in Los Angeles County. Loftus is also a candidate in the district attorney election on Tuesday. She has not spoken publicly about the incident, and the San Francisco DA’s office did not respond to questions from The Appeal.

The city’s DA office has traditionally played less of a role in pursuing police misconduct and advocating reform, but a string of controversial police shootings have eroded public confidence in the police and put pressure on the DA’s office to do more to hold the department accountable. 

In 2014, police shot and killed Alex Nieto, a 28-year-old Latinx man. The following year, officers shot and killed Mario Woods, a 26-year-old Black man; his mother is set to receive a $400,000 settlement from the city, and his death prompted the resignation of then-Police Chief Greg Suhr. Six months later, police shot and killed Jessica Williams, a 29-year-old Black woman, as she was fleeing police in a stolen car. 

Activists pushed for police to be prosecuted for the deaths of Nieto, Woods, and Williams, but Gascón, the former district attorney, declined to press charges in each case. On Wednesday, at a DA candidate forum in the Mission district, activists unfurled a banner behind Loftus, who led the Police Commission at the time of the shootings, that read “Killer Cop Suzy Loftus.”

In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department conducted a review of the police department and recommended almost 300 reforms. But last week, Police Chief Bill Scott reported that the department has only completed about 10 percent of these recommendations. 

Meanwhile, new scandals have cropped up, including the illegal search of a journalist’s home and office by police earlier this year.

For years, one of the most aggressive investigators of police crimes in San Francisco was the city’s public defender. Jeff Adachi, who led the office from 2003 until he died this year, was a frequent police critic who exposed officers engaged in theft, lying, and brutality and advocated for criminal justice reforms. In 2011, Adachi released footage that showed police officers illegally searching rooms in a residential hotel. The officers intimidated people into signing statements that they authorized the search and also stole items. Several cases involving the officers were dismissed as a result of the misconduct and one officer was convicted.

Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, who worked under Adachi, is among Loftus’s challengers in the DA race. He is leading in the race, according to the only publicly released poll, which was commissioned by Boudin’s campaign. 

Boudin’s platform includes reforms like ending money bail and reducing mass incarceration by using prosecutorial discretion to prioritize serious violent felonies and using diversion and plea deals to clear less serious offenses more quickly. He has also pledged to prosecute police misconduct.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association has emerged as a major opponent of Boudin’s campaign. As of Oct. 23, the association’s political action committee has spent $416,270 on ads opposing Boudin, according to campaign finance statements from the city’s ethics commission. The association has also given $3,500 to a pro-Loftus PAC. Suhr, the former police chief, has also co-hosted a campaign event for Loftus. 

Although Loftus has said she is running on a reform platform, she has already used her position as interim district attorney to signal that she will pursue policies favored by the police union. On Oct. 23, Loftus announced she is ending a first-time DUI diversion program. Started by Gascón,  the program was designed to unclog the courts, speed up other cases, and help reduce the number of people held in jails.

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods said Loftus’s decision will cause undocumented people prosecuted for DUIs to be more easily identified and arrested by ICE, leading to more deportations. “This is not progressive. This is a step backwards,” Woods tweeted.

Boudin and the two other candidates in the San Francisco district attorney race, California’s deputy attorney general, Leif Dautch, and Alameda County’s deputy district attorney, Nancy Tung, are critical of Breed’s decision to appoint Loftus. 

At a recent debate, Dautch said Loftus’s interim appointment, just weeks before the election, amounted to having the opportunity for an open election “stolen” from voters.