The city’s decision to release portions of the records of an officer who beat a suspect with a baton undermined his case for keeping the rest of the videos sealed, a judge said.
Dacari Spiers suffered a broken wrist and leg requiring repair surgery and was forced to use a wheelchair while recovering after a San Francisco police officer beat him with a baton in October 2019. (Courtesy photo of Spiers’ attorneys)
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The city of San Francisco cannot withhold video of a police officer beating a black man with a baton after making a “cherry pick”[ed]”A federal judge decided on Thursday from the bank which parts it wanted to publish publicly.
“If you allow the police department to choose which parts of the videos to publish, there is a real risk that a jury pool will be affected,” said US Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley during a virtual trial.
In a civil rights lawsuit filed last year, Dacari Spiers alleges he comforted his girlfriend near Pier 39 on October 6, 2019 after she found her wallet was missing. Then police officers approached the couple and began questioning Spiers. According to police and audio reports on a 911 call released in December, Spiers matched the description of a suspect who reportedly suffocated a woman in the area and pulled her neck.
SFPD officer Cuahtemoc Martinez ordered Spiers to turn around and did not respond when Spiers and his girlfriend asked why he was being stopped. Martinez tried to grab Spiers, who resisted. Officer Terrance Stangel approached Spiers from behind and hit the suspect with a baton when Spiers yelled, “What the hell did you hit me for? I didn’t do anything, ”it said in December.
Spiers suffered a broken wrist and leg that required surgery to repair, as well as multiple cuts that required sutures. During his recovery, he had to use a wheelchair.
He also claims officials visited him at St. Francis Hospital on October 9, 2019 and tried to threaten him to remain silent about the attack and to force him not to seek legal representation over the beating.
Spiers’ attorneys filed a motion on December 10th against the city’s decision to keep videos of the beatings and hospital visits sealed. They argued that the public interest in police accountability outweighed the city’s interest in keeping the videos private.
Four days later, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin accused Stangel of attack with a lethal weapon, attack with violence that could cause grievous bodily harm, assault under the color of authority, and battery of grievous bodily harm. Prosecutors say the alleged beatings took place on October 7, 2019. However, the civil lawsuit claims that the beating took place on October 6, 2019. Stangel was the third police officer to be charged with shooting or assaulting a suspect by Boudin’s office.
The following day, December 15, police released a 13-minute video with parts of footage from three officers’ body cameras the night Spiers was beaten with a baton.
In court on Thursday, Corley said the decision to post these videos undermined the city’s argument that unsealing it would jeopardize the integrity of the criminal case against Stangel.
“All of the arguments you made were gutted by the police department to post these other videos,” Corley said.
The judge ordered the city to post videos of the night Spiers was beaten, and three days later officials visited Spiers at the hospital.
She also denied the city’s motion to stay the discovery pending the outcome of Stangel’s criminal case, but plaintiffs agreed to vacate the trial and not to seek testimony from Spiers at that time.
Spiers attorney Michael Sevilla said he and his client were satisfied with the judge’s decision to deny the city’s legal positions regarding the sealing of the video and the discovery.
“We strongly believe that the selective release of tapes, as the SFPD did in this case, is against everything we stand for when it comes to fair trials,” said Sevilla.
Seville also alleged that officials used false information to obtain a restraining order directing Spiers to stay away from his girlfriend, who was at Spier’s side in the hospital when officials visited him. Seville said officials used the emergency warrant as an “excuse” to visit Spiers and intimidate him into remaining silent.
“They had four armed officers to deliver one [emergency restraining order]which is not typical of what you normally see, ”said Sevilla. “It was very hot. The officers had to remove one of their colleagues because he became so aggressive. “
Sevilla said he expected video footage of the beating and hospital visit to be released on Monday or early next week.
The San Francisco District Attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge’s decision.
The police did not return requests for information whether Stangel is still on active duty or on administrative leave.
Stangel is expected to appear for a preliminary conference on February 16 and a preliminary hearing in the San Francisco Supreme Court on February 23.
His attorney Nicole Pifari said in a statement emailed that her client’s prosecution was an “obviously political move” by Boudin, who vowed to persecute officials more aggressively for excessive violence when he ran for district attorney in 2019.
She said a recording of the 911 call released in December showed a “terrible and violent encounter” between Spiers and his girlfriend. She added that Spiers defied legal orders to “get away from his victim” and instead “push an officer”.
“Officer Stangel has acted well within the law and his department’s guidelines in choosing to use his baton, which is viewed as an” intermediate use of force “, to be used in dealing with attack subjects to raise towers subjugate and prevent injuries to himself and his partner, “Pifari said. “Officer Stangel confidently stands by his innocence and looks forward to challenging these false allegations in court.”