Burris plans to ask Calif. AG to investigate Woods, Gongora Pat deaths

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN/KTVU) After San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced last week that no charges would be filed against officers involved in two fatal police shootings, an attorney representing the families of the decedents said Tuesday that he will take the cases to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

During a rally today outside of the Hall of Justice, Attorney John Burris called Gascon's decision not to charge the officers involved the fatal shooting of Mario Woods on Dec. 5, 2015 and that of Luis Gongora Pat on April 7, 2016 "fundamentally wrong."

"I will be requesting that the state attorney general conduct an investigation and determine, based upon the evidence, whether charges should be filed," Burris said. "The families here are suffering a great deal. 

Justice for them has not been served," he said.

According to Burris, although he's filed two civil cases in federal court on behalf of the families, the civil cases fail to hold officers accountable for police encounters that turn deadly.

Burris said, "I'm going to continue vigorously with the civil cases that I have, but that doesn't bring real justice in a sense because it doesn't really hold the officers accountable. They don't really have to pay."

Burris said that as long as the officers aren't held accountable "you're basically sanctioning this conduct for future officers to engage in."

Woods, 26, was killed when five officers fired their weapons at him near Keith Street and Fitzgerald Avenue after he allegedly refused to put down a knife, police said. The officers were identified by police as Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Charles August, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips.

Gongora Pat, 45, was killed during a confrontation with officers. Police said he was armed with a knife near the corner of Shotwell and 18th streets. Police identified the two officers who shot Gongora Pat as Sgt. Nate Steger and Officer Michael Mellone.

During today's rally, a visibly upset Gwen Woods, mother of Mario Woods, spoke for the first time in public since Gascon's announcement Friday that no charges would be filed.

"It's reprehensible what he (Gascon) did to Mario," Gwen Woods said. "He's executed him all over again. I will never let you forget his name. This is not an agenda for me. This is my life."

She continued to say Mario Woods was loved and was not an "animal." 

"I've never said their names until today," Gwen Woods said before naming all five officers involved in Mario Woods' shooting, "You may have gotten off on this one, but there is a higher judge."

"I'm speaking today with my heart broken," Luis Gongora Pat's brother Jose Manuel Gongora said in Spanish. "Gascon should have charged the two officers who killed my brother. But he chose to cover for those murderous officers."

"I understand Mrs. Woods' pain as well as all the other families," Jose Gongora Pat said. "I know that together we can seek justice for the all the victims."

Upon learning of the decision not to file charges, Luis Gongora Pat's wife, Carmen May Can, said in a letter read by Luis Gongora Pat's cousin Luis Poot Pat, "Life is sacred and if they knew that, they wouldn't be killing people like animals up for sacrifice... They're the real beasts.

"Luis was a noble, hardworking man; a loving husband who always looked out for his sons, his parents and brothers and sisters," May Can said. 

"I'm going to fight for the rest of my life to dispel the lies told by police."

Speaking at the rally, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said to the families, "You've waited for over two years for this decision. You were told that you would get justice... Reading the decisions makes one thing clear: that it is open season, particularly for young people of color.

"The DA says the standard to prove is too high beyond a reasonable doubt, so we can't prosecute this case... Not even involuntary manslaughter? Not even for negligent discharge of a firearm?" Adachi said.

"They're telling you that they can't prosecute any of these officers, not even for a misdemeanor. So that's a scary proposition and it's a warning to everyone out there," Adachi said.

In a statement issued Friday, Gascon said he couldn't file charges against the officers because his office could not prove without a reasonable doubt that the involved officers' actions were unjustified.

"Use of force cases can only be charged if we can prove that it was unreasonable for the officer to be in fear for their life or someone else's," Gascon said in the statement. "Whether or not the officer could have used another tactic such as non-lethal force, or simply waiting, is not a factor we can even consider under current law," he said.

A spokesman for Gascon told KTVU while the shootings may not be justified, the law prevents the district attorney from filing criminal charges.

"In a use of force case the applicable charges are murder or manslaughter. And there is a complete self-deference to either charge because they had a subjective belief they were in fear of their safety or someone else's," said spokesman Max Szabo.

The DA's office says it welcomes any review from the California attorney general.

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