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San Francisco Cops' Press Release On Killing Called 'One-Sided', Police Official Reports


June 04, 2004
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San Francisco Cops' Press Release On Killing Called 'One-Sided', Police Official Reports

Account jeopardizes probe into chase, commissioners say

by Rachel Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco Police Department has jeopardized its investigation into the fatal police shooting of a suspect by issuing a one-sided press release, San Francisco police commissioners said Wednesday.

The commissioners, during their weekly meeting, scolded the department for a Tuesday press release that they say offered only the police account of the May 5 shooting of suspect Cammerin Boyd, who was killed by five officers following a car chase. Commissioners said the press release may taint the recollection of witnesses that investigators say they are still trying to get to cooperate.

"By your own standard, the department has compromised this investigation, " Commissioner Joe Veronese told police officials at the meeting.

The press release, in which the department names the five officers involved in Boyd's shooting, offers a narrative of what those officers say happened.

The statement said that Boyd, who officers thought was involved in an attempted kidnapping of a woman and child, fired at least two rounds at officers during the pursuit.

According to the statement, "Officers repeatedly told the suspect to move away from his car. He then suddenly spun around and Officers William Elieff, Gregory Kane, James O'Malley, Timothy Paine and Steven Stearns, fearing for their safety as well as the safety of residents in the area, fired their weapons."

The facts, however, are in dispute, which the release didn't mention, commissioners noted.

Some witnesses told reporters in the hours and days after the shooting that Boyd appeared to be trying to surrender when officers opened fire.

The Police Department, as well as the district attorney and the Office of Citizen Complaints -- the city's police watchdog agency -- are investigating the incident.

Police Chief Heather Fong told commissioners that as the head of the force, she takes "full responsibility" for the press release, and she said she would remove the document from the department's Web site.

The department issued the one-page release in response to a public records request by the American Civil Liberties Union, which asked for the identities of the officers involved in the shooting to be revealed publicly.

Commissioners urged the department two weeks ago to comply with the ACLU request, saying doing so would help the department gain the public's trust that there will be a fair investigation. "Essentially, you've undone with this one piece of paper whatever good will all of us were trying to engender," Commissioner Joe Marshall said, referring to the press release.

Added commissioner Peter Keane: "Don't you see how one-sided this is? You were supposed to put out the names. Put out the names," Keane said. "And if you feel you have to add something, you certainly should balance it ... and (state) that the investigation will sort it out, which I'm confident it will."

Capt. Denis O'Leary said he and other police officials spent about six hours Tuesday going over the wording of the press release before it was made public. "We were trying to consider what would be the minimal amount of information we could give without tainting statements," he said.



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