Minutes before two San Francisco police officers shot to death 25-year-old Asa Sullivan, their colleagues urged them to back off and call a hostage negotiator, newly released documents show.
Twice, cops on the scene suggested that officers Michelle Alvis and John Keesor back away from the Parkmerced attic where Sullivan was pinned down.
Recently released court records shed considerable new light on the June 6, 2006, shooting that ended with the unarmed Sullivan dead, his body raked by 16 bullets.
The records offer a narrative account of the early moments of an episode that's taken a bizarre series of twists since Alvis and Keesor, saying they feared for their lives, killed the troubled young man who'd been working at Goodwill and had a young son.
The police communications log portrays a tense situation:
"Stand by, he's gonna be a 148, stand by," San Francisco police officer Paulo Morgado says into his radio. Section 148 of the state Penal Code is radio vernacular for resisting arrest.
Moments pass before an unidentified officer makes an appeal over the air for a retreat. "Hey, why don't we just pull back really quick, set up a perimeter, and just try to get him later?"
Instead, Alvis announces that she has Sullivan at gunpoint. "He's not going anywhere," she says. He won't show his hands or allow himself to be taken into custody, Alvis and Morgado say into their radios.
Minutes tick by. Sullivan is warned that a dog from the K-9 unit will bite him. Officer Erik Leung, on the floor below the attic, makes a second attempt at reason. "Why don't we slow it down, see if we can get a hostage negotiator or something, because this guy's not listening to us."
Then, "He has something under the insulation," a dispatcher types just as the K-9 unit arrives.
"Shots fired, shots fired!" yells Sgt. Tracy McCray. Alvis and Keesor empty their magazines, plugging as many as 26 rounds into the attic, with 16 hitting the target.
Sullivan had no gun, it turned out. An eyeglasses case was later found near his hip, but Alvis admits she didn't wait to see what was in his right hand after Sullivan made a "sudden movement."
'PRETTY STRONG EVIDENCE'
Reams of court records detailing the shooting became available earlier this month as evidence in a lawsuit filed by Sullivan's family.
Early motions in the family's federal suit, which names the city and county of San Francisco, Police Chief Heather Fong, and officers present when the shooting took place, were filed under seal. But some evidence previously marked confidential has emerged among publicly accessible court documents as the parties move toward an October trial date.
The records include transcripts of audio dispatch recordings, sworn depositions and declarations from the officers, reports from law enforcement policy experts, and photographs of the attic where the shooting occurred.
"The evidence is pretty strong [that] Asa did not point anything at the officers, that the officers had no reason to believe Asa was armed," the family's Oakland lawyer, Ben Nisenbaum, told the Guardian.
A former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department hired as a consultant by the family's lawyers argues in a report filed with the court that the officers exacerbated the situation by using repeated sharp commands and didn't rely on proper diffusing tactics with a subject they knew was distressed and had a diminished capacity. The attic placed them at a tactical disadvantage, and there's no logical reason why the officers didn't pull away from it, notes the report by consultant Lou Reiter.
"Their presence in the manner they chose to deploy it simply invaded the zone of safety for Sullivan," Reiter's report states. "This is known to further agitate the subject in these types of police encounters.
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