Video: Man with knife charges at officers, is fatally shot
The shooting came minutes after the suspect had carjacked a woman at knifepoint, San Francisco Police said
By Megan Cassidy and Michael Williams
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — A man shot and killed by San Francisco police on Oct. 10 refused to heed officers' orders and ran toward them just before they opened fire, according to body camera footage released Monday.
In the minutes before police shot him on Oct. 10, 21-year-old Cesar Antonio Vargas carjacked a woman at knifepoint, attempted to enter another vehicle and pushed a man in the chest just after he disembarked a bus, police said. Graphic video footage showed Vargas facing off with two officers who ordered him to "drop it" and "get down on the ground" before he rushed toward them. Police, who fired four shots, said he was armed with a knife.
The incident is feeding into the debate around defunding the city's police force, and San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott hosted a virtual town hall on Monday in which he released the videos and listened to public reactions.
Callers expressed divided opinions on the incident. While some commenters lauded the officers' swift actions, others rebuked them, saying the police failed to deploy de-escalation tactics that may have spared Vargas' life.
Scott said the town hall was intended for police to give the public a fuller picture of the incident -- not to discuss the merits of the shooting.
"This evening is about transparency," he said. "It is our intention to release the known facts involving the incident in a nonjudgmental way. As we release the facts, I'd like to emphasize that this is an ongoing investigation."
Police identified the officers as Kyle Roach and Nicholas Delgado, who are on administrative leave. The incident will be investigated by the San Francisco district attorney's office, the San Francisco Police Department's Investigative Services Division, the San Francisco Internal Affairs Division, the Department of Police Accountability and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Vargas' death marked the first fatal San Francisco police shooting in more than two years.
On Monday, police also released a timeline of the case, audio from 911 calls, summaries of interviews with witnesses, photos from the scenes and video footage from surveillance video and body-worn cameras.
Police said the string of events began at about 11:25 p.m. on Oct. 10, when witnesses saw a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt and dark pants running west on Market Street. The man, later identified as Vargas, approached an unknown vehicle from the rear, opened the passenger door and immediately closed it, police said.
Shortly thereafter, police said Vargas approached a dark colored Toyota Prius and shouted at the driver, something to the effect of "kill me, bitch." Vargas then leapt onto the hood of the car and jumped up and down on its hood, windshield and roof, according to police and security footage video released at the town hall.
The woman driving the car attempted to flee when Vargas jumped down from the roof, grabbed her and held a knife to her face, according to police.
Vargas then pulled the woman from her vehicle and ripped off her necklace before jumping in the driver's seat, police said. The car rolled a short distance before Vargas exited.
A witness who called 911 followed Vargas as he walked from Market to Gough streets. Police said Vargas attempted to open a door of a silver BMW sedan and the witness yelled to the driver to keep going.
After the sedan left, surveillance footage showed Vargas, armed with a knife, step up to a Muni bus platform and shove a passenger in his chest.
Police arrived at the scene at about 11:30 p.m. and met with witnesses who provided a description of Vargas and informed police he had a knife. Officers tracked Vargas to the area of Brady and Otis streets, where both Roach and Delgado pursued him on foot, police said.
Body camera footage captured officers commanding Vargas to "Get on the ground right now!"
They also yelled: "What do you got, what do you got man?" "Drop it! Drop it!" "Get down on the ground!" and "Get back, get back!"
In the video, Vargas removed the hood of his sweatshirt and took off his glasses, throwing them to the ground.
He took a few steps backward and then charged at the officers on foot, with a knife in his right hand.
In one video, someone was heard saying "Bitch, I'll kill ya (racial slur)." Police said this was Vargas.
The two officers fired their weapons while retreating, police said, and Vargas fell to the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Protests over the shooting began even before police released footage of the incident Monday.
By 3 p.m., about a dozen people gathered near San Francisco police headquarters holding signs that read, "Defund the police," and "Estamos aquí para la familia Vargas" (We are here for the Vargas family.)
The group was part of Defund SFPD Now, an organization formed in May by the San Francisco Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Alex Karim, the organizer of the event, said it was important for like-minded people to be together for what she predicted would be a traumatizing town hall with a disappointing outcome.
Karim said, "There is no policy, there is no reform" that can excise what she described as a culture of violence in policing. She said she wants the city supervisors who approve the Police Department's budget held accountable.
Police fielded calls from the the public following the town hall, but declined to answer any questions.
The first caller expressed her support for police.
"It's really scary to know there are people out there who could possibly do something like this," she said. "I want to thank the SFPD for supporting our community and keeping us safe."
Several who followed were less forgiving, saying Vargas was "murdered" and may have been in the throes of a mental health crisis.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin, whose office will investigate the shooting, called the case a "tragedy."
"Our office remains committed to examining each use of force case carefully and that is exactly what is happening here," Boudin said in a statement to The Chronicle. "Our (memorandum of understanding) with the Police Department about how these investigations should proceed is working as it was designed to do to ensure independence in the investigation."
Boudin said the case is being examined by the Independent Investigations Bureau, and the office's Victim Services division is providing support to Vargas' family and others.
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