SF sheriff addresses criminal investigation into captain's use of force during protest

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco District Attorney and police department are now investigating an incident involving a San Francisco Sheriff's Office employee at a protest.

"We're investigating," said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who just opened a criminal investigation after seeing video on Twitter of a San Francisco Sheriff's Department employee using their baton to shove two protesters to the ground from behind on Market and Pine Streets on May 31.

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On Thursday, Boudin confirmed the man seen shoving protesters in the video is Capt. John Ramirez. According to the San Francisco Sheriffs Office website, Ramirez is a 22-year veteran, currently serving in the field operations division.

"I know him personally," said San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto, who opened his own investigation, and spoke to ABC7 on Thursday.

"Our path right now is an administrative investigation into potential misconduct and unprofessional behavior."

The use of force took place on Sunday May 31st, a day Downtown San Francisco streets were filled with protesters.

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The video shows a sheriffs SUV lurch forward, the protester then stepped out of the way onto the curb, only to get shoved back in front of the moving vehicle and onto the ground by Ramirez.

Another Sheriff's employee helped the protester off the ground. The protester walked away and was not arrested. Sheriff Miyamoto says his office does not know the protester's identity.

Sheriff Miyamoto explained why he's opened an administrative investigation instead of a criminal one. "Based on the information, there was a need for a use of force in that context and so we don't believe it's risen to criminal behavior."

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The San Francisco District Attorney and police department are now investigating an incident involving a San Francisco Sheriff's Office employee at a protest.

Sheriff Miyamoto would like more video of the incident, but a source told ABC7 news reporter, Kate Larsen, that none of the sheriff's personnel who responded to the protest had body cameras.

Sheriff Miyamoto said that was correct and that the department only has 50 body cameras, which are all currently used in the jails. He says the department recently ordered another 135 cameras. "I would like everyone to have body cameras in this office to make sure we document everything we do."

"I think it becomes more problematic when someone at that level is engaging in this kind of conduct, because a Captain is not just a member of the department, they're in leadership," said David Campos, who used to oversee SFPD misconduct cases as a former police commissioner.

Campos thinks it's problematic that Captain Ramirez is still working in the field during the investigation.

"I think that the way in which this Sheriff is handling this matter is creating more problems for him and his department."

"I wouldn't be surprised if in the end, there's a charge filed here," said Campos, who after watching the video does not think Captain Ramirez' use of force against the protester was necessary.

The sheriff's office tweeted, "The Sheriff's Office is aware of a video depicting the actions of our staff during crowd management activities in the recent protest demonstrations. The Sheriff's Office is currently conducting a follow-up investigation and has also been contacted by the District Attorney's Office as to the incident. Initial review of available information and circumstances does not appear to rise to criminal conduct. As a part of our investigation, we welcome any members of the public to provide additional video and information. Please contact our Internal Affairs unit at 415-554-2380."

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ABC7 already had an interview scheduled with Boudin to discuss police reform. Last year, he ran for top prosecutor on a platform of criminal justice reform, but now the entire country is engaged in that conversation.
"We are in a unique and historic moment in this country's history. We need to take advantage of the momentum to effectuate real and lasting change," said Boudin."I think that white supremacy and systemic racism are present in every area of American life and have been since slavery"

About racism in police departments, Boudin said, "the criminal justice system and policing are just in some ways the end of the road, the most visible part and violent manifestation of that societal racism."

Since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, Boudin has announced a slew of new reforms including policy to compensate victims of law enforcement violence.

Boudin also urged the State Bar of California to implement an ethical rule that would prohibit district attorneys from accepting political or financial support from police unions.

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"Another thing we've done is implement a policy that prohibits my office from filing criminal charges in resisting arrest or assault on an officer case without first reviewing the body worn camera," Boudin said. "Let's make sure we're not simply relying on a police report in cases with the kinds of charges that are all too often used to cover up police misconduct."

Boudin and several San Francisco supervisors are sponsoring a resolution that urges the San Francisco Civil Service Commission to prohibit the police department and sheriff's department from hiring officers with a known history of serious police misconduct.

"It is common and an even bigger problem is the massive loophole in the way these kinds of misconduct incidents are investigated. What often happens as is the case of an officer involved in the killing of Luis Gongora here in San Francisco is the day before discipline is imposed they quit and go work in a another jurisdiction. That's exactly what happened in that case and it happens all too often. We need to close that loophole."

As for the recent protests, Boudin has attended three himself. "Tear gas should not be used on peaceful protesters. It's not allowed in war zones, why do we allow it on the streets of our cities?"

Boudin says police need to be held to a higher standard.

"Equal justice under law has to mean something," he said.
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