By PAUL ELIAS SAN FRANCISCO
A San Francisco police officer fatally shot a young black woman Thursday morning while attempting to pull her from a wrecked stolen car and arrest her, the department's chief said.
The shooting occurred amid the department attempts to restore damaged relations with communities of color after a series of fatal shootings of minority suspects, culminating with the death of a young black man carrying a knife in December.
Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, says he's "withholding judgment" until it's determined why the officer fired his gun Thursday. Brown says he supports the effort the mayor and chief have made in trying to reform the department.
"This is a systemic problem," Brown said. "You cannot lay that at the feet of one person."
Chief Greg Suhr said Thursday that the latest shooting began when a patrol car on the prowl for stolen autos turned on its lights and sirens when it came upon the 27-year-old woman sitting behind the wheel of a parked car reported stolen. Suhr said a witness reported that the woman then tried to drive off, but slammed into a parked truck about 100 feet away in an industrial area in the southern portion of the city at about 9:45 a.m.
The witness told investigators that officers then jumped out their patrol car and raced to the accident scene where the woman was trying to get clear of the wreckage by switching quickly between drive and reverse. The witness told police that officers opened the driver's door of the suspected stolen car as it was moving back and forth and were attempting to arrest her when a sergeant fired a single bullet. The woman was rushed to a nearby hospital where she died, Suhr said.
Suhr said it's unknown if any weapons were found in the car. He didn't identify the woman or officers involved.
The fatal police shooting occurred in the same impoverished neighborhood where officers shot and killed a young black man armed with a knife in December.
Witnesses video recorded police surrounding Mario Woods, 26, who was carrying a knife and appeared to be trying to limp away from gun-drawn officers after being shot several times with pellet-filled bean bags. The video clips capture five officers opening fire on Woods and the images were circulated widely online, leading to protests and calls from Suhr's resignation.
Suhr responded by announcing a number of reforms aimed at cutting down shootings and he called in the U.S. Department of Justice to review the department's policy and procedures.
In particular, Suhr is trying to adopt a "time and distance" tactic that requires officers to keep their guns holstered when they encounter a suspect carrying a weapon other than a gun.
"This is exactly the kind of thing with all the reforms we are trying to prevent," Suhr said Thursday.
He said the responding officers had not yet been interviewed and he had no other information. He didn't release the woman's name.
Police and the district attorney continue to investigate the Woods shooting. Woods family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the police and city.
Before Thursday's shooting, Mayor Ed Lee said he supported Suhr's attempts to reform the department and had no plans to fire the chief. Lee's office didn't return a phone call and email inquiry Thursday.