San Francisco police accused of 'racial bias' in arrest of armed suspect firing at them on bodycam

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A group of San Francisco police officers has been accused of "racial bias" in connection with the August 2022 arrest of a mentally ill man who pulled out a realistic prop gun and fired off multiple blanks, resulting in a 53-minute standoff that ended without anyone being hurt.

Police received a report of a bicycle theft in the Mission District on Aug. 6, 2022. Two officers spotted Jose Corvera, 52, pushing a bicycle while riding another one in the area just before 8 a.m. The officers approached him for questioning, and Corvera ran behind a car and crouched down with what looked like a functioning firearm.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Public Defender's Office announced a claim against police under the California Racial Justice Act, alleging that police initiated the stop "for no apparent reason apart from his race."

"Corvera…was unjustly singled out by the police based on racial stereotypes linked to Latinx people, poverty, and their rights to possess personal belongings," the filing alleges. "It was unfair and prejudicial to presume that his possession of two bicycles instead of one must be connected to a criminal act."

Corvera's attorneys alleged a White person with two bikes in the upscale Marina District "would be unlikely" to have been stopped.

Corvera went to trial on charges that included weapons possession, threatening officers and resisting arrest last month. After a hung jury, the judge declared a mistrial, according to the public defender's office. He was not charged with stealing any bicycles.

A judge is expected to rule on whether the claim can proceed after a hearing on Dec. 13, and if the claim succeeds, Corvera could see the initial charges dropped and avoid a new trial. If he fails, new proceedings are scheduled to begin on Dec. 29. He is being held on $50,000 bond at the San Francisco County Jail.

Bodycam shows police repeatedly shouted at Corvera to drop the weapon and warned passersby to stay back.

"Drop that gun on the floor, or you will be shot," one officer shouts. "Put it on the floor!"

Corvera fired blanks over the course of the standoff, and at least 17 officers responded to the situation. Four of them fired at least 15 shots, according to court documents. However, they never struck Corvera, only surrounding cars and buildings. They also called in tactical units and crisis negotiators.

During the standoff, officers crouched behind the ballistic shield can be heard telling each other where they keep their tourniquets, in case of the "worst case scenario."

When Corvera finally tossed the gun away, it went off one last time. Officers rushed over and cuffed him, and paramedics rushed in, checking him for any injuries.

"Mr. Corvera was unjustly singled out by the police based on racial stereotypes of Latinx people, of the unhoused, and of their rights to possess things like bikes," Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Natividad said in a statement Wednesday. "It’s extremely unlikely police would have treated a white person the same way."

Natividad alleged that responding officers unfairly assumed Corvera was a thief because he was in possession of two bicycles when they encountered him. The public defender's office also accused the officers of creating a public safety hazard by opening fire in the residential neighborhood.

"It’s important to call out racial bias, and we urge the court to grant Mr. Corvera the opportunity to make his case that race played a role in how police reacted to him," said elected San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. "We also urge the District Attorney’s Office to dismiss this case, as it’s clear jurors are likely to once again decide that the police’s actions were racially motivated and improper."

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