Mario Woods Suit Approved For Trial After Video Emerges

The video cast doubt on officer accounts of Woods' behavior, a federal judge said.

A federal judge allowed a lawsuit by Gwen Woods, mother of Mario Woods, seen here with civil rights attorney John Burris, to go to trial. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Nearly three years after the deadly shooting Mario Woods, a federal judge on Tuesday allowed a lawsuit to proceed to trial after newly unsealed video cast doubts on the officer’s accounts.

The ruling allows Woods’ mother, Gwendolyn Woods, to put her son’s death before a jury after District Attorney George Gascón declined to file charges in May. U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick wrote in Tuesday’s ruling that a newly unsealed video taken in the minute leading up to the Bayview shooting on Dec. 2, 2015 by a former Muni bus driver contradicts officer sworn depositions.

KQED, doggedly reporting the case, obtained the video and described Woods falling on all fours as officers fired rubber projectiles. Woods was down for seven seconds before taking four slow steps with a heavy limp, right shoulder against the building and knife in his right hand. 

Orrick noted that the video casts doubt on statements by officials like former police Chief Greg Suhr and officers’ accounts in depositions. Woods, they said, began to walk quickly toward Officer Charles August and raised a knife before five officers fired, shooting him 21 times.

“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding the threat that the officers faced,” Orrick wrote in the ruling. ”

Fearing repercussions, the Muni driver provided a copy of the video to the city in summer 2017 — long after initial investigations began. The driver wanted to cease driving a bus in Bayview and change jobs before the footage became public, KQED reported.

The shooting marked a turbulent time for the department, which subsequently underwent reforms. Suhr withstood pressure to step down until officers fatally shot 29-year-old Jessica Williams in Bayview in May 2016, promptly resigning in the aftermath.

San Francisco’s criminal justice leadership continues to evolve. Gascón, who anti-police brutality advocates criticized for filing no charges against officers involved in shootings, announced last week that won’t seek re-election in 2019.

The trial is scheduled for April 1, KQED reports.

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