Monday, San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel was found not guilty of three felony counts in what the Los Angeles Times reports as the first excessive-force trial for an on-duty officer in the city’s history. The jury was deadlocked on a fourth charge of unlawfully beating Spiers under the colors of authority.
On Oct. 7, 2019, Decari Spiers was out on a date with his then girlfriend at Fisherman’s Wharf. The couple had not committed any crimes. When two officers arrived, allegedly following up on 911 calls about a man choking and dragging a woman, Spiers was confused when Officer Cuauhtemoc Martínez grabbed him and Stangel began beating him.
“It is undisputed that officers did not observe any physical violence or unlawful conduct by either of them,” District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in a statement Monday. Boudin is a former public defender who was elected district attorney in 2019 in a surge of progressive prosecutors opposed to mass incarceration.
Martínez, who was not charged in the case, immediately ordered Spiers to get against the wall, but according to prosecutors, neither officer gave him reasonable commands before Stangel started beating Spiers with his baton, landing at least seven blows.
“Five strikes when he’s lying on the ground, in the fetal position, writhing in pain, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of assault and battery,” Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Young said according to KQED.
Stangel was charged with four felonies total, including battery causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and assault under the color of authority.
“We respect the jury process, although we remain disappointed that police accountability remains so elusive and difficult to achieve,” Boudin said in a statement. “I am committed to continuing to hold those who commit harm accountable — regardless of the uniform they may wear or the badge they may carry. No one should be above the law, and my office will continue to fight to ensure that all communities are safe.”
Spiers was never charged with any crime and later received a $700,000 civil settlement from the city.
“This case was sabotaged from day one by police officers and investigators who simply will not allow police officers to be held accountable for perpetrating violence,” Curtis Briggs, Spiers' attorney, said in a statement. “The system for investigating police misconduct is completely dysfunctional and broken. This case has highlighted that.”
Stangle alleges he was defending his partner during the violent encounter. His defense attorney, Nicole Pifari, says her client was using necessary force to diminish an escalating situation and has referred to the case as one based in politics.
“I was trying to get him to stop fighting my partner and I was trying to get us out of the situation without getting hurt,” Stangel said.
Stangel is one of six officers charged by Boudin and has been butting heads consistently with San Francisco Police Chief William Scott in claims that both sides withheld evidence in the case.
Scott then broke off communication between his office and the prosecutors' office and took the lead in all police shootings and excessive force investigations.
Both agencies agreed to a 60-day memorandum as they work out a new deal with the state attorney general’s office.
In the days leading up to the trial, an investigator in the district attorney’s office testified in a pretrial hearing that she was pressured by the prosecution to not include evidence about Spiers’ alleged abuse in his arrest warrant.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association said it was satisfied with the trial's outcome and that the focus should be on keeping San Francisco safe.
“We are pleased that this jury focused on the facts, evidence, and the law and was not distracted by other factors in reaching their not guilty verdicts on three of the four charges before them,” Tracy McCray, the association's acting president, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, there’s an ongoing movement to recall Boudin, who recently accused police of using a database with DNA collected for the victims of rape and sexual assault to connect to unrelated crimes.