Memorial for cyclist marred by SFPD harassment

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.  


how about simply holding someone accountable for their actions? you're all about personal responsibility, no?

and give it a rest, people get convicted of crimes whether they intended to act, or were simply reckless or negligent.

Posted by GuestD on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 9:49 am

door-to-door trying to collect evidence against the driver. If they find evidence that shows the cyclist was at fault, they will bury it. That's not how you find out the truth of anything.

I have seen zero evidence that this driver did anything wrong. And even if he is technically at fault, it is clear that throwing him in prison isn't going to achieve anything other than satisfy the lust for revenge that the SFBC seems crazed about.

Posted by anon on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 10:14 am
Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 10:27 am

which lets them off the hook as now it is a DA decision.

Luckily we don't have an ideological puppet as DA and I'm sure a deal will be done to ensure no jail time, just as with the much worse Bucchere case.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 10:42 am

First of all, the cops should have found this evidence, but they didn't, they didn't even ask for it, so Sgt. Ernst can go suck it with his pronouncement that the biker was at fault. They should be ashamed of themselves and I love the thought of Ernst being put on bike patrol. And heaven forbid that citizens should pick up the cops' slack, which is all that the SFBC did.

Second, I didn't realize the cops and DA had to provide you with evidence of anything. They have the evidence and have found the driver at fault, not the biker. I'd like to think that the appropriate action will be taken, whatever the authorities deem that action to be. And I don't know about a "lust for revenge" but give me a break, you object to somebody being held accountable for the death of someone else, even if it were an accident?

Posted by GuestD on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 10:47 am

what the cause of justice requires.

I'm sure some minor charge will be trumped up just to make all this noise go away. But I feel sorry for the driver who is being hounded and victimized here when he did nothing more wrong than many other drivers in an accident.

A vocal group of entitled affluent white people (the SFBC) subverting justice by sifting thru evidence and suppressing anything exculpatory is not helping anyone here.

Posted by anon on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 11:13 am

before turning it over to authorities.

Knowing the truth about the incident may certainly help the friends and family of the victim.

Don't you have some errands to run and some doubleparking to do. Hypocritical asswipe.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 11:34 am

SFBC didn't go door to door when a pedestrian was killed by a cyclist, so any evidence that such an obviously self-serving group dredges up is suspect.

If I were a juror, I would not like to see partisan investigations like this.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

I want the 5 minutes of my life I've spent corresponding with you back
via con dios

Posted by GuestD on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 11:41 am

Hey, why not call me a "troll"? Or better yet, a racist?

And yes, I have a problem with vigilante groups trying to skew the evidence.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

I was never "debating" anything with you, Guest, I was commenting on some posts anon wrote. You'll note I did not call him a troll or a racist or any name for that matter. anon is entitled to his opinion and he's free to share it all he wants, so far as I'm concerned.

damn, now I want these past 2 minutes back, as well.

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Posted by dde44 on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 1:03 pm

Well, Sgt Richard Ernst. Since his name is Ernst, he cannot be wrong. He words should be taken as truth and justice itself, because he name is Ernst.

C'mon, how can someone whose name is Ernst ever be criticized?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 09, 2013 @ 10:48 am

view i.e. that this accident was the fault of the cyclist.

It may yet turn out to be the case.

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Posted by amanda on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 1:27 am

Frankly, I am getting sick and quite tired of seeing the police becoming the victim of the blame game by the SFBC. Ignoring the basic law breaking antics of spineless cyclists who I continue to observe, violating city laws by going through the stop sign without stopping, going through the red light, by riding on sidewalks reserved for pedestrians and by not observing the right of way for pedestrians already crossing at the crosswalks, for talking on the phone while riding, for not wearing their bike helmet, for dodging traffic without looking behind them when merging in order to pass stalled or double parked cars, and for going against traffic on bike lanes reserved for bikes riding along with the traffic. I am astounded that the SFBC has done nothing, but choosing to blame the police for 'harassing' the cyclist when they have either been careless to begin with or who has been behaving arrogantly when confronting an automobile preparing to make a turn in their direction. I think I will decline continuing my membership with the SFBC until they decide to wake up and to change the way they deal with the police, the drivers, the pedestrians, the law abiding cyclists including the reckless cyclists who should be deserving of all the blame. Maybe the members, and the directors of SFBC should all go to Palo Alto as part of their homework assignment to see why Palo Alto is safer than the city of San Francisco. And hopefully they won't continue to get a failing grade on their report card.

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