San Francisco mayor announces police chief's resignation following latest fatal police shooting

ByKatie Marzullo, Vic Lee, and Melanie Woodrow KGO logo
Friday, May 20, 2016
SF police chief resigns following latest fatal police shooting
San Francisco's police chief has resigned at the request of the mayor hours after an officer fatally shot a young black woman who was reportedly driving a stolen car and amid other racial issues.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The breaking point for San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr came Thursday after his officers shot and killed a woman. The new acting Chief of Police is Toney Chaplin, who has spent more than 20 years with the department.

At an afternoon news conference, Lee said he met with Suhr following the fatal shooting of a black woman by a police sergeant in the city's Bayview District. The mayor said he asked the chief to resign, and Suhr did tender his resignation.

Suhr has been with the San Francisco Police department for 33 years. He was elected chief in 2011 when then Police Chief George Gascon became district attorney. He was born and raised in San Francisco and graduated from St. Ignatius High School and the University of San Francisco.

His last year as chief has been rocked with controversies from a racial and homophobic text messaging scandal involving officers to three fatal police shootings within the last six months.

Lee said the city has been shaken and divided over tension between law enforcement and communities of color for several months now. He said even though the police department has been moving toward reform, especially in terms of the use of force policy, things are not moving quickly enough and new leadership is needed.

The mayor says Suhr has been a dedicated public servant.

"Despite the political rhetoric of the past few weeks, I have nothing but profound admiration for Greg," said Lee. "He's a true public servant, and he will always have my respect."

The mayor's full statement is posted at the end of this story.

Standing next to the mayor was Chaplin, who's been with the department 26 years. He's working in homicide and the gang task force. Chaplin has also helped establish the professional standards and principled policing bureau.

In 2012 he was awarded the Silver Medal of Valor after he shot and wounded an armed gang member, and was able to take him into custody without anyone else being hurt.

The mayor says that now moving forward he will push the department and acting chief to implement reforms already in progress.

The chief's resignation came after the police shooting that took place just before 10 a.m. on Elmira, an alley off Industrial Street near the Interstate 280 interchange.

Late Thursday afternoon, a group showed up to the scene of the shooting. They declined a camera interview, but said they were almost certain the woman shot was their family member.

The shooting was the last thing Suhr wanted to hear.

"This is exactly the thing that we're trying, with all of our reforms and everything else, to avoid."

Police were on an operation looking for stolen cars when they found one parked with a 27-year-old woman inside.

"One occupant in the car, a black female," said Suhr. "The female did not comply originally with the investigation, drove off."

The car crashed into a parked truck. Suhr says the vehicle never went beyond 100 feet of where it was first parked on Elmira Street; this as two officers chased the car.

"Apparently the vehicle was going from forward to reverse according to the witness at the scene," said Suhr. "There was a back and forth with the vehicles, with the officers moving about. At some point in this engagement one officer, a sergeant, fired one shot striking the suspect."

The woman was transported to San Francisco General Hospital where she later died.

Suhr says federal agents from the Department of Justice's COPS program were also on scene. At the request of the mayor, the agency is reviewing the department's use of force training and practices. This comes after a series of controversial shootings involving officers.

In the meantime, critics of Suhr are celebrating his resignation. A 24-hour protest calling for his resignation was scheduled to begin on Thursday evening.

Among the protesters who still gathered at city hall were members of the Frisco 5, the individuals who went on a 17 day hunger strike calling for Suhr's firing or resignation in retaliation to the city's officer-involved shootings.

Also in the crowd was one of the older members of the Frisco 5. Cristina was often affectionately referred to as "Mother" during the hunger strike.

In response to the news of Suhr's resignation she said, "It was the power of the people who did it, not the supervisors, it was the power of the people. This is our victory, all of us, not just the five. Everybody who's been fighting for this. So we're very happy for this. But the struggle continues."

Four supervisors also called for Suhr's resignation. On Thursday night they reacted by thanking him for his service and saying it's time for the city to come together and begin to heal.

Here's the full statement the mayor made on Thursday afternoon:

"The past several months have shaken and divided our City, and tensions between law enforcement and communities of color that have simmered for too many years have come into full view.

Though the facts are still emerging, we know that, this morning, a young woman of color was killed in an officer-involved shooting in the Bayview.

The community is grieving, and I join them in that grief.

These officer-involved shootings, justified or not, have forced our City to open its eyes to questions of when and how police use lethal force.

For the last many months, every day, I have asked myself, is the path to reform best advanced by our current Department leadership?

Because my goal has always been, and remains, real reform and the restoration of trust.

I have previously expressed confidence in Chief Suhr because I know he agrees with and understands the need for reform. He has demonstrated his commitment to instilling these reforms into the whole department, from the command staff to the cadets.

But following this morning's officer-involved shooting and my meeting with Chief Suhr this afternoon, today I have arrived at a different conclusion to the question of how best to move forward.

For me, this has never been about personalities and politics, it's been about performance.

Because, in my three decades of public service, I've learned how important it is to measure progress along the way. Greg Suhr, a dedicated public servant who's given more than three decades of his life to the Bayview and to this City.

The progress we've made has been meaningful, but it hasn't been fast enough. Not for me, not for Greg.

That's why I have asked Chief Suhr for his resignation. And in the best interest of the City he loves so much, he tendered his resignation earlier today. Despite the political rhetoric of the past few weeks, I have nothing but profound admiration for Greg. He's a true public servant, and he will always have my respect.

I've known him for years, and he's a man of great character. He takes his job seriously, he's loyal, he's smart, and he understands that a Police officer is more than a public safety enforcer. A police officer is peace of mind, a social worker. He's a model San Franciscan and a great man.

To take Greg's place, I am naming Toney Chaplin as Acting Chief of Police.

Toney has served in the Police Department for 26 years. He's established a record of commitment to the City's diverse communities, serving at Mission and Taraval Stations, in the Gang Task Force, and running the Homicide division. Toney has most recently helped establish our new Professional Standards and Principled Policing bureau, the arm of the department that focuses on accountability and transparency.

The men and women of the San Francisco Police Department put themselves in harms' way daily, literally. We owe it to them to restore the community's trust in their department. As we embark on a new chapter for the Police, we aim to restore this trust.

Some of the reforms underway might have prevented or clarified today's incident.

We need to turn these plans into actions.

I will hold the Acting Chief and the Department to a high standard of urgency to implement the reforms we've already announced in the past several months.

And we will keep pressing forward with new accountability measures, and stronger oversight over police use-of-force.

My fellow San Franciscans, we must push forward, harder than ever before, to reform the Police Department and restore trust with every community and keep our City safe.

In this solemn moment, we must put aside politics and begin to heal the City."