SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU/AP) - A man said to be wielding a large kitchen knife was shot multiple times Thursday morning by San Francisco police after the suspect allegedly charged at officers, police Chief Greg Suhr said.
The homeless man, identified only as Luis, was said to be living in a homeless camp and spoke little English. The man's age and last name was not immediately available.He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at San Francisco General Hospital, authorities said.
The shooting occurred shortly after 10 a.m. in the 400 block of Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th streets.
Police were called to the scene after a homeless outreach team initially reported someone with a large kitchen knife was on Shotwell Street. Officers responded and tried to subdue the man by shooting less-lethal bean bag rounds at him, Suhr said.
However, the suspect got up and charged at the officers, who fired at least seven shots at him, Suhr said. At least two officers, including a sergeant, were involved in the incident, according to police.
Seven bullets casings were found and the kitchen knife recovered, Suhr said. The blade was 10 inches to 12 inches long, and witnesses described it as a chef's knife, he said.
Two witnesses backed up the story that a language barrier may have contributed to the shooting. John Visor, 33, and Stephanie Grant, 31, said they lived in a tent in the same encampment as the suspect and say he spoke only Spanish and that the officers barked their commands to drop the knife in English.
Visor told KTVU Luis never acted aggressively towards police.
"He didn't charge at no officers," said Visor. "He was going in circles because he wasn't understanding what they were saying."
They say the man had stuffed the knife into his waistband before he was shot.
"Everybody carries something for protection here," Visor said. "He didn't have the knife in his hand when he was shot."
Visor and Grant knew the man only as Jose. They said Jose liked to collect bottles and cans for recycling and enjoyed kicking a soccer ball, sometimes late into the night and to the occasional annoyance of pedestrians.
"He never hurt anybody," Visor said. "He just liked to pick up cans."
The suspect was struck by the officer's gunfire before being rushed to the hospital. The chief said the man was homeless and had been staying in a nearby alley for a couple of months.
The incident was the third fatal shooting of a minority suspect not carrying a gun in the last two years and the second since December, when Mario Woods was shot. The previous two shootings along with two separate scandals involving officers exchanging homophobic and racist text messages has led to several protests, calls for the chief's firing and wrongful death lawsuits.
San Francisco police have been under increasing scrutiny and are grappling with how to respond to threats that involve force.
"We have been working very, very hard to try and figure out ways to contend with folks with edge weapons and other weapons, trying to create time and distance," Suhr told reporters. "Apparently, this event unfolded very quickly."
When police use lethal force, the officers are routinely placed on desk duty while the case is reviewed by internal investigators.
KTVU reporter Henry Lee contributed to this report.