San Francisco police chief issues rare apology for police shooting

Officials said the non-fatal shooting of a burglary suspect was an accidental discharge


By Lila Seidman and Richard Winton
Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott offered a rare public apology this week for a recent police shooting of an unarmed car burglary suspect.

Xavier Pittman Jr., 23, was shot in the wrist by plainclothes Officer Zachary McAuliffe as he was being arrested May 7. Pittman is a suspect in a series of car burglaries.

This Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 file photo San Francisco Police Chief William Scott walks to a meeting at City Hall in San Francisco.
This Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 file photo San Francisco Police Chief William Scott walks to a meeting at City Hall in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu,File)

He was treated at a hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening, officials said. An examination of the officer’s gun showed that a single round was fired.

“The shooting of Mr. Pittman quite simply should not have happened,” Scott said during an online town hall on Thursday. “I’m deeply sorry that Mr. Pittman was shot during this incident, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Mr. Pittman, his family and his friends.”

Scott added a wider public apology, saying, “We know you expect us to get this right, and we know how traumatic it is to see these types of incidents — especially when they should not have happened.”

The chief said the shooting remains under investigation. He said plainclothes officers are exempt from wearing body cameras, but that video surveillance from a nearby business recorded the shooting.

The incident began when police received 911 calls that several suspects in a silver Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross were breaking into vehicles all over the city, from Golden Gate Park to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Shortly after noon, U.S. Park Police spotted the Mitsubishi in the Presidio area of San Francisco and tried to stop it, but the vehicle sped away.

McAuliffe and a colleague found the vehicle and the suspects at Jack London Alley and Varney Place, police said. As some suspects fled in the Mitsubishi, the officers apprehended Pitman and the shot was fired.

Video footage shows two officers running in the alley toward Pittman with their guns drawn.

“Plainclothes officer No. 1 grabbed Mr. Pittman, and both fell to the ground,” a San Francisco police commander said during the town hall.

In the scuffle, he said, the officer’s handgun fired and struck Pittman “in the left wrist area.”

According to the video, one officer can be heard yelling: “Police Department! Police!” Immediately afterward, a gunshot is heard.

Pittman, who was unarmed, is heard saying he has been shot and requests an ambulance.

McAuliffe “did not intend for his firearm to go off,” his attorney Mike Hinckley said. “He sincerely apologizes to Mr. Pitman and wishes him a full speedy recovery.”

Pittman’s attorney, Adante Pointer, said it is “unclear whether it was an accidental discharge or intentional, as the video is not terribly clear.”

He said his client did not do anything to warrant deadly force being used against him. He said the officer was acting recklessly.

“For safety reasons, officers are trained not to have their gun in hand when they go hands on with a person in order to prevent this very thing or something worse from happening,” he said. “This could have easily been a fatal shooting of my client or of another person in the vicinity.”

The Police Department has yet to determine whether the gunshot was intended. The San Francisco district attorney will decide whether the officer involved will face criminal charges.

Pittman was arrested on suspicion of second-degree car burglary, conspiracy, possession of stolen property and committing a felony while on release.

Police said the other suspects remain at large. The Mitsubishi was found abandoned in Oakland. Investigators also recovered a large amount of stolen property from the auto burglaries.

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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