by Robert J Hansen
San Francisco, CA – The San Francisco Police Department held a 3-hour virtual town hall Friday in response to an officer-involved shooting last Thursday at Mariposa and Owens Streets.
The two men were grappling with a knife while lying on the ground and several officers ordered them to put the knife down.
Non-lethal bullets were used at first to break the two men apart.
Body cam video shows one of the men getting an advantage and starting to drive the knife down into the other when police fired several rounds into both men.
The two men did not appear to ever make any threatening movements toward the police.
The video can be seen here.
“In the San Francisco Police Department’s aspirations to be a national model of 21st century policing, we work to earn the trust of those we serve,” William Scott, Chief of SFPD said. “By committing to transparency and the tenets of procedural justice.”
Chief Scott emphasized that the incident is subject to several independent and ongoing investigations, therefore some information was not yet able to be disclosed.
Commander Paul Yep said the incident began as 911 received a call about a man beating a tarped structure with two large sticks.
Officers were dispatched around 7:54 p.m., responding to an aggravated assault or an assault with a deadly weapon, according to Yep.
When officers arrived they found the two men, McKinnon and Mendoza on the ground, struggling over a knife according to Yep.
“Both subjects were lying on the ground in an active physical struggle involving a knife, ” Yep said.
McKinnon was on top of Mendoza with the knife pointed downward over Mendoza who was lying on his back.
Officers gave Mendoza several commands for McKinnon to drop the knife.
“I believe you were the victim,” one officer told McKinnon. “I want to help you but you have to put the knife down.”
“Y’all can play the video as many times as you want but you had over 15 cars. Everyone saw the lights. You thought that wasn’t going to escalate the situation?” a woman said during public comment. “The two men with knives were in more danger than the police. They never had a chance.”
Susan Buckman said she has watched these town halls for a couple years and this is the worst incident she has seen so far.
“I mean in previous ones you might say that things escalated so quickly that an officer didn’t have enough time to try to de-escalate,” Buckman said. “But in this one, you had time and you threw it away.”
In a statement from SF Deputy Public Defender Alexandra Pray, who represented one of the people killed, Mendoza, she said, “I was absolutely horrified to learn that SFPD officers shot and killed my client Mr. Mendoza.”
She added, “He was an unhoused father who lived a life of desperation. In all of my interactions with him, he was very sweet and gentle, even though his struggle to survive often entangled him in the criminal legal system for mostly petty and non-violent offenses.
“The fact that he died at the hands of police, who found him injured and being threatened by a man with a knife, is an inexcusable tragedy. My deepest condolences go out to his family and I want them to know that he was loved and valued despite his circumstances.”
The Public Defender’s office noted officers’ Body Worn Camera footage shown at the SFPD town hall showed at least a dozen officers gathered, yelling commands at close range, with weapons drawn on the two injured men who were largely frozen in combat under the same tarp on the ground.
“None of the officers attempted to identify language access needs until very late in the incident. Although the initial force used was from beanbag projectiles, officers quickly escalated to lethal force. It was later confirmed that both men died from the gunshot wounds,” the office said.
“The inability or unwillingness of police to truly de-escalate harmful situations remains a paramount concern for public safety in San Francisco,” Public Defender Mano Raju said. “The answer to violence is not more violence. Mr. Mendoza lived his life on the margins of society without having his basic needs met, but he still had rights. This is why we need to stop relying on police to prevent harm, but rather invest in non-police alternatives to help vulnerable people abate harm.”
This officer-involved shooting is being investigated by the California Department of Justice pursuant to AB 1706, according to Yep.