Settlement reached in 2015 SFPD shooting death of Amilcar Perez Lopez

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) The family of a 20-year-old Guatemalan man who was fatally shot by  plainclothes San Francisco police officers in the Mission District in 2015 has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit against the city.

The lawsuit filed by the parents of Amilcar Perez Lopez alleged that San Francisco police officers Eric Reboldi and Craig Tiffee used excessive force when they shot Perez Lopez on Feb. 26, 2015. It also named former police Chief Greg Suhr, and sought to rebut statements he made after 
the shooting alleging Perez Lopez charged at the officers with a knife held over his head.

The terms of the settlement, which was reached on Friday, are not yet public.

"I can confirm that we have reached a tentative settlement that contemplates dismissal of the entire lawsuit and no admission of wrongdoing," the city attorney's spokesman John Cote said. "The terms of the agreement are contingent upon final approval of the police department and the Board of Supervisors."

Perez Lopez's death occurred before police adopted body cameras and, unlike the well publicized shooting of Mario Woods later that same year, which was filmed by bystanders, it was not captured on video.

However, activists pushed hard for criminal charges against the officers, working to bring new witnesses forward and raising concerns about discrepancies between police accounts of the shooting and witness statements and forensic evidence. In particular, an independent autopsy conducted for the family found that Perez Lopez had been shot in the back.

Perez Lopez was shot and killed around 9:45 p.m. by plainclothes officers responding to a 911 call reporting a man with a knife running down Folsom Street toward 25th Street. The caller said the man was chasing another man.

Police said the officers arrived, saw a suspect with a knife and ordered him to drop it, firing at him a minute later.

Activists have suggested that Perez Lopez, who spoke limited English, may not have understood police commands or grasped that the plainclothes officers were police. They pointed to the fact that he was shot in the back at an indication that he was fleeing at the time, and said it appeared he had already dropped the knife at the time he was shot.

However, District Attorney George Gascon in April 2017 announced he would not be filing criminal charges after a more than two-year long investigation.

A report released by the district attorney's office found that Perez Lopez still had a knife in his hands when he was shot. According to officer accounts he was allegedly slashing at one officer with the knife and then made a move toward the victim around the time police opened fire.

Father Richard Smith, an organizer of the group Justice for Amilcar Perez-Lopez, said the case against police was strong and called the settlement decision "bittersweet." However he said he understood why the family chose not to go to trial.

Smith said Perez Lopez's parents, Juan Perez and Margarita Lopez Perez, are a poor family who live in a small village in Guatemala. A trial would have been a painful ordeal and risked leaving the family with nothing at the end, like the parents of another police shooting victim, Alex Nieto.

A federal jury in March of 2016 found that police did not use excessive force when they shot Nieto 59 times at Bernal Heights Park on March 21, 2014.

"Given the fact that our judicial system is so weighted in favor of police, it's always a risk when cases like this go in front of a jury," Smith said. "There's an automatic bias in juries that favors the police narrative and that distrusts the community and the family's side of the story."

Smith said his group plans to put up a mural to honor Perez Lopez and his life story as a young undocumented Latino who faced eviction from his home before he was shot by police.

"We're not going to let Amilcar's case go away," he said.