George Gascón is fairly progressive, as far district attorneys go. He supports the decriminalization of hard drugs and has led the charge on using new technology to clear old marijuana convictions and prevent racially-biased decisions in his office.
But once Gascón steps down later this year, he may — for better or worse — be best remembered for his office’s decisions not to press charges against a single police officer involved in a shooting citywide — despite a slew of deaths at the hands of SFPD. The cops behind the deaths of Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, Amilcar Perez Lopez, and Alex Nieto were all let off, but they’re not the only ones.
This week, Gascón’s office announced that it would not be pressing charges against two more officers, who were involved in shootings in 2017 and 2018.
In the first case, Officer Joshua Cabillo shot 28-year-old Oliver Barcenas twice in the back as he ran away from police in North Beach. It was June 9, 2018, and Barcenas was hanging with friends who were drinking outside after celebrating the Warriors’ championship victory. Although Barcenas was not drinking, he took off once officers approached. Seeing a bulging waistband, officers took chase, and Cabillo fired two rounds. Video footage collected later showed that Barcenas had tossed the weapon he had aside seconds before Cabillo took aim.
“While video footage reveals that Barcenas threw his weapon to the ground, he did so only milliseconds before Cabillo fired his weapon. Cabillo said he did not see Barcenas throw his gun at all,” Gascón’s office stated. “Body-worn camera footage and security footage from nearby businesses corroborate Cabillo’s narrative of the chase and the shooting.”
But this wasn’t the first time Cabillo had fired his gun while on duty. In 2012, when he was working in South San Francisco, he shot and killed a 15-year-old boy named Derrick Gaines after Gaines allegedly pulled a gun from his waistband at a gas station.
This week, the District Attorney’s office announced it would not press charges against Officers Wilrolan Ravelo and Jason Robinson after they shot and killed 34-year-old Damien Murray in September 2017 after he held a woman and three children hostage in a Nob Hill apartment. Murray fired at officers from a window when they arrived, and claimed he’d shot the woman — which later turned out to be false. After two hours of negotiations, officers entered and shot Murray after he allegedly reached for his gun. He later died at the hospital.
“Given Mr. Murray’s earlier threats, discharge of his gun, and the danger that he presented by reaching for his gun when officers confronted him during the hostage rescue, the District Attorney declines to file charges for either officer in this matter,” prosecutors said in a statement.
The prosecution of officers involved in shootings is a hot topic for the candidates vying to fill Gascón’s seat.
“Part of the issue in those cases is how transparent the [District Attorney’s] office was with the community throughout the process,” candidate Suzy Loftus told SF Weekly when she pulled papers to run for office last year. “I will run a transparent investigation, I will make sure that what the law is is understood, what the facts are is understood, and I will fully personally investigate every single shooting,” she said. “Nothing does more damage to the relationship of trust between the police and local communities than when these fatal shootings happen. If there is a crime there I will charge the case.”
Chesa Boudin also pledged to change the way the District Attorney’s office handles such incidents. “It’s absolutely imperative we enforce the law equally and we hold police accountable for violating the law, the same we do for everybody else,” he said to SF Weekly in January. “If we don’t enforce the law equally regardless of skin color, regardless of income, regardless of job title then the entire criminal justice system loses integrity. The police are not above the law, and we can rebuild trust with the community that has been so badly damaged by these shootings if we work together to hold those officers that don’t follow the law accountable.”