By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – On Monday the trial of SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel began as Judge Teresa M. Caffese denied a defense motion to dismiss the case following the explosive allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
At issue is whether Stangel broke the law when he struck the unarmed man with a baton eight times, breaking his wrist and leg. Stangel faces four felony charges.
During his opening arguments on Monday, Assistant District Attorney Hans Moore said that the police rushed Spiers without communicating why they were there and within seconds, they put their hands on Spiers.
A big question will be what precipitated this beating.
As Spiers’ attorney Curtis Briggs told the Vanguard last week, “(Stangel) was dispatched based on (the 911 call), Sergeant O’Connor had interviewed them and they got a statement from them. And this statement in Stangel’s eyes is exculpatory… Because their premise is if Stangel was responding to a DV in progress, he has a right to jump out and start beating on people.”
Stangel’s attorney Nicole Pifari last week maintained that the DA’s office failed to file the charges in this case because they wanted to pursue Officer Stangel for excessive force.
“(T)he DA’s office here obstructed the criminal investigation into Spiers and they did so to strengthen their case against (Stangel),” Pifari argued.
Police ultimately declined to charge Spiers with domestic violence – a fact that cannot be mentioned to the jury empaneled to determine whether Stangel broke the law with his use of force.
The police have been unable to locate footage that shows the alleged domestic violence. They have the 9/11 calls, but both Spiers and his girlfriend denied there was any domestic violence – and their accounts, taken separately following the incident, largely match.
In an interview with police, Spiers told them that he and his girlfriend had dated on and off for about 1`5 years but had recently become serious. They were drinking at a wine bar. He said that they were upset regarding her wallet being stolen and he was trying to calm her down on the sidewalk.
He stated she was standing close to Richard, arm in arm, kissing and hugging her to calm her down when two women walked by and started staring at him.
He said said that they had never had any physical altercations and denied that they were involved in one that night.
In a separate room, the girlfriend was questioned. She said they were wine tasting. She described herself as upset and left the garage thinking that one of Spiers’ little brother’s friends stole her wallet. They walked out of the garage to take the bus to leave, she described herself as emotional because she had been drinking. Spiers did not want her to leave and started to calm her down.
She said that Spiers was not involved in a physical altercation and in one report said, “she would never let a man hit her.”
The police described the girlfriend as having no visible injuries.
The account given by the couple however, varied greatly with what the two 911 callers described. One of them said that the male was “hitting” and “dragging and yelling.” She felt that the male was “going to physically harm the female” and that he put her in a headlock twice. He yelled, “You ain’t going no mother f-ing where.”
She described the female as trying to get away but the male had a hold of her arm and was physically preventing her from leaving, at one point picking her up off the ground as she tried to leave.
The other witness said that the male was beating the woman up. She said she called 911 “because I figured if I walked away, she’d probably be dead today.” She said that he kept saying, “You thought you got away, bitch.”
She said that the male had just released the woman and had started talking to her when the police arrived.
Stangel said that Officer Martinez approached the suspect and he “appeared to engage in a physical altercation with my partner. Due to the fact that my partner was in a physical struggle and I believed that this subject – I had reasonable suspicion to believe that this male subject had committee a violent… felony against this woman… I decided to deploy my baton, which I did. I struck the subject multiple times with the baton, and then my partner and I took him into custody.”
In the report from Sgt. Brendan O’Connor, he noted the interviews of both parties who denied being involved in a Domestic Violence incident and the lack of visible injuries to the woman.
Moreover, there was a lack of surveillance footage of the incident and a lack of officer BWC footage of the DV incident and a lack of additional witnesses.
He writes, “I am unable to substantiate a Domestic Violence charge at this time.”
In addition, the 148 charge for resisting arrest was dismissed on November 14 by the DA’s office under Suzy Loftus due to “lack of evidence.”