When Luis Góngora Pat was killed, he was living in a tent near 19th and Shotwell streets in the Mission District. A native of Teabo, a small Yucatán village in Mexico, he’d come to the U.S. in the early 2000s, to work as a prep cook at a couple restaurants. But eviction and poverty took over, and by 2016, he was suffering from addiction and living on the streets. He was known by neighbors as a peaceful man who frequently kicked a soccer ball around, but when police responded to the corner on April 7, 2016, it was because a call had come in stating that he was wielding a knife. Within seconds of authorities arriving, he’d been critically shot — in the head, chest, arm, and upper back. He died in the hospital later that day.
The shooting rocked the city and angered anti-police brutality activists, who criticized the police for not taking more time to talk to Góngora Pat, and highlighted his limited understanding of English. And it came on the heels of a slew of shootings from SFPD, who had recently killed Alex Nieto on March 21, 2014, Mario Woods on Dec. 2, 2015, and Amilcar Perez Lopez on Feb. 26, 2015. After Jessica Williams was fatally shot by police on May 19, 2016, then-Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned.
It’s a sad tale, and Góngora Pat was just one chapter of it. But this week, his family received a tiny measure of victory, when they were granted an audience with District Attorney George Gascón. Góngora Pat’s brother José and cousins Carlos and Luis Poot Pat met with Gascón for more than an hour Wednesday, along with the organizer of Justice for Luis Góngora Pat, lawyer Adriana Camarena.
Their collective ask was clear: that Gascón file murder charges against Sergeant Nate Seger and Officer Michael Mellone, who shot and killed Góngora Pat. But that is a difficult request — police have repeatedly been let off the hook in San Francisco when they’ve shot people. No charges were filed against the five members of SFPD who shot Mario Woods, the two cops who fatally shot Perez Lopez, or the officer who fired at Williams. In fact, in Gascón’s nearly 7-year reign as District Attorney, he has not filed a single murder or manslaughter charge against a police officer who’d fatally fired a gun.
Based on public data the Justice 4 Luis group gathered, 73 percent of investigations into fatal officer-involved shootings have resulted in no charges — either because Gascón determined the shooting was lawful, or because the evidence was insufficient to make a solid case. The remaining 27 percent are still open.
“Based on George Gascón’s scorecard, the District Attorney is guaranteeing police impunity, because he has not filed charges in any single case,” Camarena told supporters on the steps of the Hall of Justice, after the meeting. “Are we hopeful? We’re always going to be hopeful. We’re always going to be hopeful that justice will be carried, and that he’ll have the courage to fight for a case, even if it’s hard. That is his job.”
According to Camarena, the District Attorney’s office told her it is six to eight weeks out from making a determination in the case. In the meantime, Góngora Pat’s family is held in a purgatory-like period of waiting.
“We’re insisting that we want justice. My mother’s nearly dying after the assassination of my brother, and I just ask them that they don’t allow her to die of the grief over this case,” Jose Góngora Pat said, with Camarena translating. “I asked Gascon where are those officers. Are they still out on the streets killing people? This is very hurtful for our families.”