SAN FRANCISCO — Two San Francisco police detectives will not face criminal charges for shooting and killing a young Guatemalan immigrant armed with a knife two years ago, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The plainclothes detectives feared for their lives and shot in self- defence after scuffling with Amilcar Perez-Lopez, 21, who lunged at one of them with a 12-inch knife, the San Francisco district attorney said in a report .
Detectives Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe were in an unmarked police car when they responded on Feb. 26, 2015 to a report of a man chasing another man with a knife.
Reboli detained the man getting chased and Tiffe grabbed Perez-Lopez, who was standing on a sidewalk, according to the report.
Perez-Lopez slipped from Tiffe's grasp and then lunged at him with the knife while the other officer was coming to help, Tiffe told investigators.
An autopsy showed Perez-Lopez was shot five times from behind and a sixth time in the side by both officers, who ended up standing side-by-side as Perez-Lopez ran toward Tiffe, according to the report.
Perez-Lopez was also "very intoxicated," according to the district attorney's report, citing the autopsy.
Investigators concluded Perez-Lopez turned quickly right before the shooting started, explaining why he was shot in the back.
"We respect the District Attorney's decision and thank his office for its work on this investigation," San Francisco police spokesman Michael Andraychak.
Arnoldo Casillas, a lawyer who represents the Perez-Lopez's family, did not return a telephone message seeking comment.
Casillas filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family against the city in April 2015. At that time, Casillas said Perez-Lopez did not speak English and appeared to not know the detectives were police officers.
The decision to clear the officers was praised by the San Francisco Police Officers Association union that represents the detectives.
"We cannot let this pain be a wedge between us," union president Martin Halloran said. "Instead, it should motivate us to work together as a community to prevent future tragedies from taking place. This means putting in place smart policies and introducing 21st century tools that will protect both the public and police officers."
The San Francisco Police Officers Association union that represents the two detectives did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
The report came as San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has faced mounting pressure to clear a backlog of investigations into 11 fatal shootings by San Francisco police officers over the last three years. The decision Wednesday was his first involving fatal police shootings in more than two years.
Gascon wants his office to lead all investigations of officer-involved shootings in the city, taking over for a police department rocked by fatal shootings of suspects armed with knives, a stun gun or driving a stolen car.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr resigned last summer after a woman driving a stolen car was shot dead and the U.S. Department of Justice late last year issued 200 recommendations for reforms of the police department. New city Police Chief Bill Scott has pledged to implement the recommendations quickly.
Gascon obtained funding to create a new unit of six prosecutors and six investigators to probe police shootings and inmate deaths in the county jail.
Paul Elias, The Associated Press