Man in wheelchair sues SF police for shooting him

March 16, 2011 7:41:41 PM PDT
ABC7 News has learned that a homeless man is suing the San Francisco police officers who shot him, while he was in a wheelchair. You may remember the incident, because it was captured on video.

Randal Dunklin, 55, was born with polio, is confined to a wheelchair, and suffers from mental illness. On Jan. 4 police responded to call saying he was slashing tires in front of the mental health office on Howard Street and the rest of the incident was caught on camera.

A witness took the video on his cell phone. It shows Dunklin in his wheelchair. He had just stabbed an officer in the shoulder who tried to subdue him with pepper spray. Police fire a bean bag round. As Dunklin is hit, he whirls around in his wheelchair while tossing his knife. Two officers fire their service revolvers. Dunklin falls wounded from his wheelchair. His attorney says the law makes it very clear when police can fire their guns.

"Police officers can only use deadly force if there's an imminent threat to their lives or safety, or the lives to someone else and I didn't see an imminent threat here," said John Scott, Dunklin's lawyer.

Not only that. Scott says Dunklin was turning away from police when he was hit.

"As he's turning counterclockwise with his right flank facing police, moving away from them, he takes three bullets all on his right side," said Scott.

Disability rights activists were shocked at how police responded. They lobbied for changes in police procedures.

"The fact that he had an obvious physical disability did not appear to factor into how the police officers planned or excited their response," said Mary Lee Smith from Disability Rights Advocates.

Then Police Chief George Gascon and the police commission reviewed how the department responds to people with mental health issues. The department is now trying to implement a police commission resolution calling for the creation of a specialized crisis intervention team. The goal is to certify at least 25 percent of patrol officers as team members. And the resolution orders that all patrol officers get at least 16 hours of training in mental health intervention.

SFPD spokesman Police Lt. Troy Dangerfield explained the program's goal. He said it was created "to see if they can resolve the matter peaceful, without any violence, without any other type of intervention."

Dangerfield told ABC7 a delegation will soon be visiting the Memphis Police Department since they apparently have a highly successful model which other police agencies have adopted.

The City Attorney's office declined comment on the suit, saying they have not seen it.

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