DA’s Office Disappointed in the Verdict, but Appreciated That It Was a Difficult Case for the Jury
By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – Critics of Chesa Boudin were quick to celebrate the decision, arguing that the DA overreached and that the charges were trumped up. Meanwhile, the prosecutors working on the case pointed to a difficult decision by the jury, the lack of Blacks on the jury and perhaps the fact that the incident occurred before tougher use-of-force laws took effect under AB 392.
The trial is believed to be the first trial of an on-duty officer for excessive force in the history of San Francisco. Stangel was charged with beating Dacari Spiers with a baton, leading to numerous broken bones.
The jury hung and could not reach a verdict on the fourth count—assault under the color of authority.
The charges stem from an incident that occurred on the evening of October 6, 2019. Dacari Spiers was on a date with his girlfriend at Fisherman’s Wharf. San Francisco Police Department Officers Terrance Stangel and Cuahtemoc Martinez responded to a 911 call report of a man assaulting a woman.
While the 911 reports were in graphic detail, it was undisputed at trial that the officers personally did not observe any physical violence on the part of Spiers and, in fact, the police never recommended domestic violence charges, though they did charge him with resisting arrest—charges that the DA’s office under Suzy Loftus declined to pursue.
Officer Martinez attempted to grab Spiers, who insisted he had not done anything, and officers ignored Spiers’s girlfriend, who was screaming, “No!” and “What did he do?”
Officer Stangel then struck him seven to eight times with a metal baton—including five strikes while he was on the ground in the fetal position.
Stangel broke Mr. Spiers’s wrist and leg, requiring surgery to repair.
Spiers also suffered numerous lacerations to his legs that required stitches. Following the attack, he was forced to use a wheelchair during his recovery.
Last week, a federal judge found that SFPD had intentionally and in “bad faith” withheld evidence in Mr. Spiers’s civil case.
Rebecca Young, the DA who along with Hans Moore tried the case, told the Vanguard that the jury was out a long time—four days—on this verdict.
“This was not an easy decision for them,” Young said. “In fact, in talking with the jury afterwards, they said this was a really hard decision.”
She added, “They didn’t like what happened but they worked really hard to find reasonable doubt.”
The judge, she said, kept telling the jury “you are stewards of your community” but she pointed out, “there were no stewards for Dacari’s community on this jury, not one, not even in the alternates.”
The jury, she said, “they did their job, they’re supposed to look for reasonable doubt.”
“There cases are incredibly hard,” said DA Spokesperson Rachel Marshall to the Vanguard. “It’s very rare for police officers to even be charged criminally for using excessive force.”
She pointed to studies that show that less than three percent of police killings have resulted in any charges against the officers.
“We know that convictions are also really rare,” she said. “Criminal defendants in big cities are convicted at trial between 75 to 90 percent of the time. But one report that looked at a 10-year period from 2005 to 2015, found that officers charged with violence were convicted only 56% of the time.”
She said, “This is always an uphill battle to hold police accountable. And this trial exemplified a lot of those barriers.”
She noted, “We saw the power of the POA and their ruthlessness and their determination to defend the use of force no matter what.” She added, “We saw a lack of racial diversity on the jury. There were no Black people in a jury that was determining a case involving the beating of a Black man and numerous Black witnesses.”
Marshall also said, “Most significant, we also saw the ways in which the defense will, in police violence cases, try to attack the victim and criminalize him.”
In this case Dacari Spiers was brutally beaten. The result was a $700,000 settlement.
But Marshall pointed out “the defense attacked him and criminalized him and dehumanized him and suggested that he doesn’t have constitutional rights that everyone has.”
Throughout this trial, the San Francisco POA fought aggressively to defend Stangel. Their training officer, Patrick Woods, testified in defense of the use of violence.
Curtis Briggs who represented Spiers said, “This case was sabotaged from day one by police officers and investigators who simply will not allow police officers to be held accountable for perpetrating violence. The system for investigating police misconduct is completely dysfunctional and broken. This case has highlighted that.”
But he added, “Rather than see this acquittal as a loss, we need to remember that simply by bringing Officer Stangel to trial, Chesa Boudin’s office advanced police reform in San Francisco twenty years.”
While the body worn camera captured the incident, there was no clear video of the beating.
“That’s because the cops’ camera can’t record anymore when they’re grabbing the guy because their camera is now right up against the person’s jacket or clothing,” Young explained. “So it doesn’t. It’s not recording what is going on.”
She added, “The cops certainly know that.”
Rachel Marshall added that “a lot of times there’s a real tendency among jurors to be extra critical in these cases. The jury here brought up the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard and talked about that as an obstacle.”
Young noted, “At the same time, I think this is the outcome you can expect when the Black community is not represented on the jury.”
“I thank the jury for their careful consideration of this case over the course of four full days of deliberation, which shows the complex and difficult questions with which they were wrestling,” said District Attorney Boudin.
Boudin added, “We respect the jury process, although we remain disappointed that police accountability remains so elusive and difficult to achieve. I am committed to continuing to hold those who commit harm accountable—regardless of the uniform they may wear or the badge they may carry. No one should be above the law, and my office will continue to fight to ensure that all communities are safe.”
“We respect the jury process and we thank the jurors for spending four days deliberating on this case, which demonstrates that there were real issues of debate and concern,” said Assistant District Attorney Hans Moore, a prosecutor on the case. “We are reminded of the uphill battle to hold police accountable. Despite the challenges, we will continue our work to hold officers who break the law accountable as no one is above the law.”
“This case was about Officer Stangel’s conduct, but throughout this trial, the defense vilified Dacari Spiers, the victim in this case,” said Lateef Gray, Managing Attorney of the District Attorney’s Independent Investigations Bureau (IIB) unit. “When we spoke to the jurors, they expressed what a tough decision it was and asked about whether SFPD will change its practices as a result of this case. We hope that they will.”
“I commend the hard, historic work of prosecutors Hans Moore, Rebecca Young, and Lateef Gray in this case, as they fought an uphill battle to hold a police officer—backed by the powerful POA—accountable for severely beating an unarmed Black man,” said District Attorney Boudin. “Our work to hold those who harm our community members accountable continues. No one is above the law—including those tasked with enforcing it. We are committed to protecting the right of all people to be safe.”