San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr resigns after fatal officer-involved shooting

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) -- Hours after a black woman was fatally shot in the city's Bayview District, Mayor Ed Lee announced the resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr, following weeks of saying he supported the city's embattled top cop.

Lee announced that Toney Chaplin, 47, a deputy chief, would take command of the city's police force while it searches for a permanent replacement. A rally was expected to be held Thursday outside SF City Hall, but the news of the chief's resignation came suddenly during a late afternoon news conference.

Mayor Lee said he hoped the city would heal after mounting outrage over the police department's use of deadly force.  

"I have previously expressed confidence in Chief Suhr because I know he agrees with and understands the need for reform,” Lee said. “But following this morning’s officer-involved shooting and my meeting with Chief Suhr this afternoon, today I have arrived at a different question of how best to move forward."

Latest officer-involved shooting

The shooting that led to the resignation of Suhr occurred before 10 a.m. Thursday morning. Two officers in patrol cars were in the area looking for stolen cars and spotted the stolen vehicle on Elmira Street near Helena Street. The woman drove away but crashed into a truck less than 100 feet away, Suhr said during a press conference.

The officers tried to pull the woman out, and at some point a sergeant fired one shot, striking her, according to Suhr.

A witness told police the woman was moving the car back and forth while they tried to pull her out. Suhr said it was not yet clear if she was armed or threatening officers.

Officers performed CPR on the woman and took her to San Francisco General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her name has not yet been released. Police said the woman killed Thursday was black.

The identities of the police officers were not immediately released. Officers are routinely placed on administrative lead after an officer-involved shooting but it wasn't clear if the two officers involved in this incident would be placed on administrative duty.

The fatal police shooting occurred in the same impoverished neighborhood where officers shot and killed Mario Woods in December. Woods was armed with a knife and witness video show him attempting to evade officers when they opened fire. 

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi released a statement Thursday afternoon and questioned the details surrounding the incident.

"It is unacceptable for police encounters with unarmed citizens to end in bullet wounds and body bags. While details are still scarce, I am deeply disturbed by reports that the young woman gunned down today was driving away from officers. She was entitled to due process and, above all, she was entitled to her life.  Police reforms and policy changes are meaningless if they aren’t accompanied by a major shift in police culture, away from shooting first and asking questions later. I am reiterating my request that the California Attorney General’s Office open its own civil rights investigation into the San Francisco Police Department."

After news of Suhr's resignation, San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener said: "I continue to have confidence in and enormous respect for Greg Suhr and his decades of honorable public service. I wish him only the best and will miss his leadership. And, I continue to strongly support the men and women who put on a uniform every morning not knowing whether they will come home at night."

Said Supervisor Mark Farrell: "“I respect Mayor Lee’s decision, and want to personally thank Chief Greg Suhr on behalf of all San Franciscans for his decades of service and progressive leadership at the San Francisco Police Department. Chief Suhr has served San Francisco for decades with distinction."

The SF Police Officers Association also released a statement that praised Suhr's leadership. In part, it read, "His retirement under pressure is an extreme loss to the department and the city. Chief Suhr at the core was and always will be a cop's cop, dedicated to the men and women who don the uniform every day to serve and protect." 

Shootings prompt outrage

San Francisco police and city officials have been criticized for how the department has used deadly force during recent incidents involving citizens. Thursday's officer-involved shooting was the third fatal shooting of a suspect by San Francisco police over the past five months.

A group of five, known as the Frisco Five, earlier this month concluded a hunger strike to protest police brutality. About 100 people gathered two weeks ago at San Francisco City Hall to march and protest over police use of force after five people ended a hunger strike three days ago after nearly 17 days without solid food. 

The group had been calling for the resignation of Police Chief Suhr or his termination by the mayor over the department's ongoing use of police force.  The protestors have accused Suhr and Mayor Lee of fostering a climate in which officers are too quick to shoot people of color.   

Today, Mayor Lee said the chief should be held accountable. Before his afternoon announcement, Lee suggested changes might occur. “Everything should be considered,” he said. 

Police maintain the shooting deaths of Mario Woods, Alex Nieto and Luis Gongora,  at the hands of police were justified and that Woods and Gongora had knives and refused to drop them. Nieto, they said was armed with a Taser, but police initially thought he was reaching for a firearm. 

Mayor Lee has promised $17.5 million to reform the police department, which includes funding for Tasers, pending the police commission's approval, as part of the strategy to reduce officer-involved shootings.

About $11 million will go to violence prevention programs over the next two years.

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