Memorial for cyclist marred by SFPD harassment

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Shahum was still visibly disturbed by the behavior of Sgt. Ernst more than an hour later.
Steven T. Jones

A memorial and informational event this morning at the 6th and Folsom corner where a bicyclist was fatally run over by a truck last week was marred by a tense and unsettling confrontation with an SFPD sergeant who showed up to block the bike lane with his cruiser, lecture the cyclists, and blame the victim.

The event was organized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to raise awareness of the incident and that dangerous intersection and to call for the city to make improvements. It included friends and co-workers of 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac, who was riding in the Folsom Street bike lane on the morning of Aug. 14 when an unidentified delivery truck driver turned right onto 6th Street, across her path, and ran her over.

SFPD Sgt. Dennis Toomer tells the Guardian that the department has completed the traffic incident report, information from which can only be shared with the parties involved, but that the investigation of the fatality is still ongoing and will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review once it's done.

But SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum said that SFPD Sgt. Richard Ernst, who showed up at the event a little before 9am, had already drawn his own conclusions about the crash and showed up to make his apparent disdain for “you people,” bicyclists, disturbingly clear.

Shahum said that she tried to be diplomatic with Ernst and asked him to please move his patrol car out of the bike lane and into an available parking space that was right next to it, saying that it presented an unnecessary hazard to bicyclists riding past.

But she said Ernst refused to do so for almost 10 minutes, telling the group that he has “a right” to leave his car than and that he was “making the point that bicyclists need to move around” cars parked in bike lanes, according to Shahum’s written account, which she prepared to file a report about the incident with the Office of Citizens Complaints.

“He then told me explicitly that he ‘would not leave until’ I ‘understood’ that ‘it was the bicyclist’s fault.’ This was shocking to hear, as I was told just a day ago by Commander [Mikail] Ali that the case was still under investigation and no cause had yet been determined,” Shahum wrote.

And apparently Ernst didn’t stop at denouncing Le Moullac for causing her own death, in front of people who are still mourning that death. Shahum said Ernst also blamed the other two bicyclist deaths in SF this year on the cyclists, and on “you people” in the SFBC for not teaching cyclists how to avoid cars.

“I told him the SF Bicycle Coalition does a significant amount of safety work educating people biking and driving about sharing the road, and that I’d be happy to share more information with him. I again urged him to move his car out of the bike lane. He again refused, saying it was his right and he wasn’t moving until I ‘understood,’” Shahum wrote.

Shahum said there were multiple witness to the incident, including three television reporters who were there to cover the event.

“In addition to the Sgt’s inappropriate and dangerous behavior of parking his car in the bike lane and blocking safe passage for people bicycling by, it was deeply upsetting to see him unnecessarily disrupt and add tension to what was already an emotional and difficult time for many people who lamented this sad loss of life,” Shahum wrote.

Asked about the actions and attitudes expressed today by Ernst, who we could not reach for comment, Sgt. Toomer told us he “cannot talk about personnel issues.”

Compounding Ernst’s insensitive and judgmental approach today, it also appears the SFPD may have failed to properly investigate this incident, which Shahum and the SFBC have been tracking closely, and she said the SFPD told her that there were no video surveillance tapes of the collision.

After today’s event, SFBC's Marc Caswell decided to check in at businesses on the block to see if they had any video cameras aimed at the intersection, and he found an auto body business at the intersection whose workers said they did indeed have revealing footage of the crash that the SFPD hasn’t requested, but which SFBC today delivered to investigators.

“He had the time to come harass us as a memorial, but he didn’t have the time to see if anyone had footage of this incident. It’s very unsettled,” Shahum told us.

Whoever was ultimately at fault in this collision and others that have injured or killed bicyclists in San Francisco, today’s confrontation demonstrates an unacceptable and dangerous insensitivity and animosity toward bicyclists in San Francisco, which was also on display in the comments to the post that I wrote last week about the incident.

It’s fine to debate what happens on the streets of San Francisco, and you can even harbor resentments toward bicyclists and believe that we deserve your ire. But when you endanger people’s lives to make a point, or when you threaten violence against vulnerable road users, then you’ve gone too far.

Yes, let’s talk about what happens on the roads and how to improve behaviors, but let’s not forget our humanity in the process.  

Comments

that I need to run off and deep throat some cops behind the Burger King.

Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

that doesn't mean that bike riders and ape apologists are correct.

Posted by Matlock on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 8:56 pm

What an appalling picture of the USA people paint when they try to discuss highly disturbing issues. In a week when a New York cabbie maims a visitor from another country I read all the vile comments here about a tragic death.

I know that the attitude of Americans will be 'we don't care what others think about us' so it may be pointless my commenting upon it. However, before I'm told to 'butt out' I would just like to point out that friendly nations are reading such comments and thinking 'really'!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 1:37 am

Attention: Those that aren't craven, and are willing to protect their communities from dickless rightist types, veritable fascist puppets in blue shirts ;

The next time you see an SFPD officer on foot patrol, run him over, stop, get off your cycle or vehicle and proceed to urinate on him or her. uniformed pigs must be given "instruction" (a dialect) on how to behave in our society or they must be removed from our society.

They are no good, a nuisance in CCSF.

Posted by GuestagainstSFPD on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 10:51 am

Does the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition really do an effective and "significant amount of safety work educating people"? I remember more than a few times when they would put up little booths along Market Street offering bagels and coffee to people biking towards downtown - but would totally look the other way and ignore it when people who were riding their bikes on the sidewalk would go on by. The message they were providing wasn't about education - if it was they would have called out the people who were breaking the law. If the group really wants to do something for everyone, the Coalition should engage all bike riders - especially those who are in need of that type of education - instead of just hanging out and handing out treats for the sake of a PR stunt.

Posted by Kristin on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 11:50 am

disown critical mass, which is dangerous, and would call for zero tolerance of any road traffic violations including cyclists.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

I don't ride my bike in SF anymore. I have been hit by cars, chased down by nutcases, and yelled at by cops multiple times. One time on Valencia a guy parked in the bike lane near 20th street and without looking got out to go get something at the corner store. I moved around him at the stop light and said you should at least look if you don't want to find a parking spot. And he said "relax" so I just said your not suppose to park in bike lanes. A cop that was over to the side then became involved and said I have no right to criticize where people stop. THIS IS NUTS. He should have been ticketed. Even Philly cops have more respect for people and cyclists than SF cops. And I see cars run red lights at every intersection every day. California and Sansome, Battery and Broadway, Mission and Cesar Chavez... pretty much every intersection I cross daily people blow red lights nearly hitting traffic going the opposite way and no one ever gets a ticket. I am floored by it.

Posted by Noe Valley Resident on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

cop acted correctly in seeking to defuse a potential road rage situation.

You appear to think that there should be zero-tolerance of auto infractions and zero-enforcement of bike infractions. not much bias there then?

You sound angry and no doubt cops pick up on that and pay more attention to you than they would a more relaxed soul.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 23, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

It's illegal to park in bike lanes. You're saying that any instance of someone informing a motorist of their illegal behavior is a potential road-rage situation and the person who is acting rightly and legally should be criticized for it?

The commenter said nothing to indicate that they thought cyclists who break the law shouldn't be punished. Saying that a driver who does something illegal should be corrected for it is not saying that a cyclist who breaks the law should not. If anything, the commenter seems to be of the opinion that people who break the law should be punished rather than given a free pass, which would make me think he WOULD be in favor of idiot cyclists being punished as well.

But the commenter didn't express that. Why are you looking for excuses to hate on people who don't even indicate that they disagree with you?

Posted by Hezaa on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 9:20 am

When making a right-turn, as in this case.

When entering or leaving a garage, driveway or parking space.

In an emergency.

When on official police business.

And so on.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 9:33 am

None of which were the case above, as can be inferred with a small amount of critical thinking.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

There have been a number of accidents in SF where a cyclist has gotten too close to a vehicle turning right. I am yet to see any hard proof that this wasn't the case here. The cyclist was young and inexperienced, while the driver was very experienced with a clean prior driving record.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

PIg cops, running wild.

Posted by JND on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

Reading the ignorant comments feels nearly more depressing than the acutal post about an ignorant officer. Seems you have a long way to go over there in SF - Good Luck and keep on your work.

Posted by Michael on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

seeing a lot of pushback here from ordinary city residents.

People see inconsiderate bike riding every day on the streets, and it makes it hard for people to find sympathy for cyclists in situations like this.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

and maybe one or two other commenters.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 4:30 pm
Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

It seems like the same people who are saying that they don't have respect for any cyclists because of many disrespectful ones on the streets, are also saying that we don't have a right to be upset with the entire police force because we see officers breaking the law frequently.

At the same time, the people who distrust cops because of the bad behavior of some, would demand that people treat cyclists civilly despite those that bike without courtesy.

No one is going to find any sympathy for anyone else.

Posted by Hezaa on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 9:25 am

That's probably because I am civil and helpful to them.

Those who get bad behavior from the cops probably dish it out too. Shahum's behavior here looked very aggressive to me, and totally out of keeping with a so-called "memorial".

Posted by Guest on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 9:39 am

I want to stand up for the SFPD on this one. A single sergeant screwed up, but in general SF's cops are exceptionally evolved, progressive and helpful to bicyclists, when you compare us with other American cities. Take it from a guy who just biked daily in NYC for 4 months. The NYPD blatantly violates cyclists rights, and rules of the road – almost every single day I saw multiple police cars driving or parking in the bike lanes. NY cops *assault* critical mass riders – our cops give critical mass a monthly police escort. And Miami? Texas? The police there make NY look civilized.

When a cop parks in a bike lane in SF, it's so rare that cyclists are surprised and annoyed. In NYC it's like a pothole – just part of the scenery that you have to deal with. Shame on Ernst for his mishandling of this (although it sounds like it was a particularly clumsy and power-trippy attempt to keep cyclists safe on his part) – but thanks to the rest of the police force for usually being supportive of cyclists.

Posted by Sean Savage on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

when you do not treat them with respect, and it looks here like Leah argued with the cop.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

"I agree with your fair, sympathetic and judicious statement, except that it did not contain enough blame. Here, let me add some."

Posted by Hezaa on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 9:27 am
Posted by Guest on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 9:37 am

Bicyclists should be required to have a bike riding license to ride on streets that also have car traffic in San Francisco. Traffic violations - running red lights, stop signs, speeding, etc. should result in loss of license.

The worst behavior is speeding down hill on the far right and trying to go straight through an intersection where cars are turning right. This behavior should be illegal and cyclists should be required to not lane split through intersections -- i.e., they should be required to queue up behind turning cars in order to proceed through the intersection.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

willfully ignorant and pleased with themselves about it -- will demand that bicyclists pay with their lives for any hopeful thought they may have once had for improved safety.

Not only won't any allowance be made for the tendency of current auto drivers not to see them and yield appropriately, but dangerous driving habits -- such as making a right turn starting from the center lane at breakneck speeds in order to "get ahead" of other drivers or beat pedestrians to a crossing -- will continue to be the norm.

Drivers will continue to switch lanes, wrongly block bike lanes, and fail to yield to bicyclists when the cyclists need to take a full lane -- *and* the bikeys will be subject to squishing while in "queue" according to auto drivers' whim, fancy, nearsightedness, or twitter schedule.

This is all good for petroleum industry profiteers at least.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

Probably because cyclists are not trained, tested and licensed.

Posted by anon on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 11:48 am

That can only possibly be true if you ignore speeding as lawbreaking. Every single car in SOMA speeds. The speed limit is 25 (and 15 near Bessie Carmichael School) and every single car goes faster than that.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2013 @ 10:49 am

For instance, 35 is entirely reasonable on wider streets, particularly in good light and weather with light traffic. While 15 can be too fast in other situations. The cops typically take context into account and nobody expects zero tolerance on speed limits.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2013 @ 11:55 am

So you admit that car drivers speed all the time and you think that you should be above the law. But you demand that bicyclists always obey every law in all instances before they get any "respect" from you. What amazing hypocrisy.

You know that speed kills far more than stop sign running right?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 7:59 am

speed. Sometimes the limit is too high and sometimes it is too low. It all depends.

Posted by anon on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 8:57 am

registration of bikes and insurance, so that people like the victim of Bucchere can get compensation.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 24, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

i agree. i would also add that drivers who exceed the speed limit and run stop signs should have their licenses revoked. we would have no one left on the road, how pleasant!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:47 pm
Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

Like the Iran-Iraq War. Somehow, I wish both sides would lose.

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Posted by Charlie on Aug. 25, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

The animosity that is being instigated between bikers and drives needs to stop. There is no better time than now for the bikers and the rest of us to stop fighting over the roads. A biker's death by truck, is no more tragic than a pedestrian's death by bike. Where is the outpouring of remorse for that victim? Did the biking community send flowers to his memorial? It is time for the city to re-evaluate priorities. The voters are fed up with the mess on the roads. The complete streets program is a complete failure.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2013 @ 10:18 am

But the bike lobby need to get off their idea that they are somehow more important than other classes of road users.

Oh, and start obeying the law.

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Posted by Carolyn on Aug. 28, 2013 @ 2:15 am

Looks like the DA is pressing charges against the truck driver who ran over and killed Amelie after all. Your efforts to besmirch her memory and blame her for her own death have failed. Sucks to be you right now.

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 8:01 am

Is the DA pressing charges? All I could find is that the SFPD found the truck driver at fault for the accident, undoubtedly thanks to the resourcefulness of the SFBC volunteers who did the canvassing job that the SFPD lied about doing.

Funny thing about the surveillance cheerleaders. They don't cheer so loudly when the evidence subverts their rigid world view. Remember the video evidence of police misconduct inside SRO hotels that Adachi shared with the public.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 8:43 am

means they will pay out. But that doesn't mean a jury would convict of anything material since clearly the driver did not intend any harm.

Posted by anon on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 8:56 am

should be accessible to every citizen so that the police can be properly surveilled.

Posted by lillipublicans on Aug. 31, 2013 @ 8:46 am

might support your own personal bias.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 31, 2013 @ 9:53 am

Even Bucchere didn't get any time.

I'm starting to see a witchhunt for this driver whose only crime, if any, was not seeing a cyclist in his blind spot.

Sometimes an accident is just an accident, and the way a small army of people are conducting a vendetta against a guy who probably feels terrible anyway is deplorable.

Posted by anon on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 8:55 am

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