SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco’s chief of police on Thursday offered a rare public apology for the plainclothes officer involved in shooting and injuring a man last week during the investigation of what they called a "known auto burglary suspect." The officer who fired his weapon also issued an apology through his attorney.
The shooting of Xavier Pittman Jr., 23, at Varney Place and Jack London Alley "quite simply should not have happened," Chief Bill Scott said at the virtual town hall meeting. The meetings are required to be held within 10 days of an officer-involved shooting.
Chief Scott noted that no body-worn camera footage is available because they were plain-clothes officers who are exempt from the department's body-worn camera policy.
As a result of the shooting, Chief Scott said plainclothes operations will pause, but not their investigations. There will be forthcoming policy recommendations regarding plainclothes officers pending SFPD review.
Scott said investigation of the May 7 shooting is ongoing. Plainclothes officers were seeking auto burglary suspects who allegedly burglarized at least five vehicles earlier that, day police said.
The investigation first began around 11:45 a.m. when witnesses reported to police a group of suspects inside an SUV, described as silver Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, breaking into another vehicle in Golden Gate Park. The suspects allegedly broke a vehicle's window and stole bags from within before fleeing the scene in the Mitsubishi, according to police.
Officers with the U.S. Park Police then spotted the Mitsubishi and tried to pull it over, but the suspect vehicle accelerated and sped off, prompting the officers to notify nearby plainclothes officers with the San Francisco Police Department.
Less than 10 minutes later, a witness reported seeing a suspect from the Mitsubishi hop out near the corner of Leavenworth and Jefferson street and break into another vehicle and retrieve a purse and bag. The suspect got back into the Mitsubishi, which then sped off.
Ten minutes after that, a separate witness reported to police seeing the same Mitsubishi near Pier 35. Again, a suspect got out and broke into a vehicle, took luggage and then fled in the suspect vehicle.
Fifteen minutes later, around 12:35 p.m., two plainclothes officers caught up with the Mitsubishi as it was headed south on Embarcadero near Washington Street. Although the officers briefly lost sight of the suspect vehicle, they then saw the suspects removing bags from a parked vehicle near Washington and Drumm streets before driving off.
Again, the officers lost sight of the Mitsubishi, but caught up with it after seeing the suspects removing bags from another vehicle along The Embarcadero, police said.
The officers finally caught up with the Mitsubishi near Jack London Alley and Varney Place, as two of the occupants were out of the vehicle and appeared to be going through the items they'd taken, police said.
With their guns drawn, the officers ran toward one of the suspects, who was unarmed and wore a black ski mask, and tried to place him under arrest
Police said plainclothes officers saw Pittman unloading stolen property from a vehicle and yelled, ‘police.’ Officers ran toward Pittman before one of the officers and Pittman fell to the ground. Police said that was when Pittman was shot in the left wrist by Officer Zachary McAuliffe whose gun went off.
During their town-hall presentation, SFPD said Pittman was not in possession of a weapon.
Pittman is recovering from his injury and is expected to survive. He was arrested and booked for auto burglary and other charges. During the town-hall public comment, a woman who identified herself as Pittman’s mother thanked Chief Scott for his presentation. She said his wrist was shattered and that an artery was severed. She added that her son appeared in court Thursday and that all charges were dropped.
Chief Scott reiterated his apology saying he was "deeply sorry" that Pittman was shot during the incident. He also paraphrased Officer McAuliffe’s apology. Scott said McAuliffe felt badly and did not intend for his gun to go off and wishes Pittman a full and speedy recovery.
The town hall included 911 calls and different angles of surveillance footage of the incident, some with audio and some without. Pittman could be heard saying "I’m dying, I’m dying. Why would y’all shoot me?"
Although the other suspects in the Mitsubishi have yet to be arrested, the Mitsubishi was later recovered, unoccupied, in Oakland.
Several investigations of the shooting are underway including an independent administrative investigation by the Department of Police Accountability, the district attorney's office, SFPD internal affairs and SFPD investigative services detail.
Bay City News contributed to this report.