SAN FRANCISCO — Dozens of members of the San Francisco Police Officers Association packed the Police Commission meeting Wednesday night, heeding a call from the union president to show support for the five officers involved in the fatal shooting of Mario Woods.
Within an hour, and with just three officers being able to speak, they left, trailing out of the room en masse to the same boos and jeers that drowned out much of the officers’ comments.
Because for as many officers who showed up, there were just as many activists and community organizers, outraged over the Dec. 2 death of Woods.
Commission President Suzy Loftus repeatedly had to threaten to adjourn the meeting if attendees refused to stop chanting and talking over speakers, and at one point called the meeting into recess when a speaker walked up to the panel and questioned the two-minute speaking limit.
The shooting of Woods garnered nationwide attention after a video of the encounter was posted on social media, showing what critics said was Woods walking away from officers, not posing a threat as the police said he was.
His death has led to fiery meetings similar to Wednesday’s gathering, with many calling for Police Chief Greg Suhr’s resignation and for a federal investigation.
The Police Officers Association has staunchly denounced the public outcry over the shooting, with President Martin Halloran writing to each member calling for a show of support at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Under our current justice system, we are innocent until proven guilty,” Officer Shante Williams tried to say during public comment before he was drowned out with boos and calls of, “Why did they shoot Mario then?”
“We are not a diverse firing squad,” Williams got out before the crowd overtook him. “We put our lives at risk every day.”
Police officials said Woods was armed with a knife he was suspected of using in an earlier stabbing and that the five officers involved in the shooting — Charles August, Nicholas Cuevas, Antonio Santos, Winson Seto and Scott Phillips — had no choice but to use lethal force after unsuccessfully trying to subdue him with beanbag rounds and pepper spray.
“To me, I want all the facts, just like everybody here,” said Sgt. Tracy McCray.
One more sergeant spoke before they left, to heckling from attendees waving signs calling for justice for Woods and for the firing of Suhr.
“It was a horse and pony show, and I think it was disrespectful to the family and to the community because we all came out here with open ears to hear what they had to say,” said Perry Jones, 32. “They’re separating themselves from us, and that was what the walkout was about.”
Attendee Sharen Hewitt said she tried to ask some of the members why they were leaving. Their response, she said, was to block her away as if she was a threat.
“What’s happening today is that the Police Department is acting very much like some of the gangs on the street,” she said.
Halloran did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the officers left the meeting. McCray said afterward that the officers can take only so much in terms of what the community members were shouting at them.
“We have some thick skin, but even thick skin only goes so far,” she said. “They wanted to come and say what they wanted to say. Obviously we can’t have a dialogue where people can discuss their feelings back and forth without getting shouted down. At a point, we don’t want the meeting to shut down. If they feel like it’s more important for them to speak, then let them speak.”