San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott, center, speaks during a town hall meeting on a May 11 officer-involved shooting at the Hamilton Recreation Center on Monday, May 21, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
By: Michael Barba, Sfexaminer.com
A rookie San Francisco police officer may have violated department policy when he fired two rounds at a moving vehicle as a suspect was fleeing the scene of an auto burglary in the Fillmore earlier this month.
Police Cmdr. Greg McEachern said Monday that William Reininger, an officer with less than one year on the force, opened fire on the white sedan as the suspect sped in the direction of another officer near Webster and O’Farrell streets early May 11.
One of the bullets lodged in the back of the car as the other officer “retreated” to safety behind a parked vehicle, according to McEachern. No one was struck by gunfire in the shooting.
The San Francisco Police Commission banned shooting at moving cars under a new use-of-force policy in December 2016 in alignment with a recommendation for police reform from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The ban prompted the San Francisco Police Officers Association to sue the Police Commission for allegedly putting officers in danger and violating its right to bargain over the policy. The case is currently in appeals court after multiple judges ruled against the union.
“The policy is very strict, you cannot shoot at a moving vehicle,” Commissioner Petra DeJesus told the San Francisco Examiner. “However, when it comes to discipline, there is a portion of the preamble of the policy when it talks about using your critical judgment and there may be exceptional circumstances. We would weigh that when considering whether there should be any discipline.”
Shooting at a moving car may be just one of two apparent policy violations for which Reininger could face discipline.
At a community meeting Monday, the San Francisco Police Department released limited body camera footage from the incident. None of the footage captured Reininger firing his gun because the rookie officer did not turn on his body-worn camera, according to McEachern.
“The cameras are supposed to be on in certain situations, and so when they are not, the question is what do we do then,” SFPD Chief Bill Scott told reporters. “The answer is we investigate and we take the appropriate disciplinary action.”
In March, Scott fired a rookie police officer who shot and killed an alleged carjacker in the Bayview during his fourth day on the job. Officer Christopher Samayoa appeared to have violated multiple department policies, including shooting out of a moving vehicle.
This is the fourth police shooting in San Francisco this year and the second to result in no injuries from gunfire. The shooting comes as police struggle to control a car break-in problem coating city streets with shattered glass, including in the Fillmore.
“The corridor that has been plagued really with the worst is right here,” Northern Station Capt. Joseph Engler said at the meeting, referring to the area of Geary Boulevard near Steiner Street. “This is ground zero of car break-ins.”
The pursuit started four blocks away when officers allegedly caught 21-year-old Hershel Hale and 23-year-old Maurice Jones breaking into a car at that intersection. Jones, a resident of Brentwood, was detained at the scene. But Hale allegedly ran to Webster and O’Farrell streets with Reininger in pursuit.
Police said Hale entered a white Hyundai Sonata and struck a parked vehicle while attempting to drive out of a parking space as officers pulled up to the scene. Hale then allegedly rammed a police vehicle and tried to run over an officer identified in court records as Graham Pfeifer.
Surveillance footage from police shows an officer scramble to safety behind a parked car as the white sedan sped by. McEachern said it was at that point when Reininger fired two rounds toward the vehicle. Though one of the bullets struck the car, police have yet to locate the other round.
“The police department does have a policy to not shoot at moving vehicles,” Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who is running for mayor, said at the meeting. “This is outside the policy, what occurred here.”
Police said Hale then allegedly struck another police vehicle before driving away to Civic Center Plaza, where the white sedan pulled up onto the grass outside City Hall and police arrested him.
Hale, a resident of Antioch, has since been charged with the attempted murder of a police officer, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon on an officer and numerous other charges. He pleaded not guilty last week.
The Examiner first reported Monday that court records show Hale has had contact with law enforcement since 2015. Hale was out on probation for a felony second-degree burglary conviction and on bail in a separate felony second-degree burglary case when the chase happened.
The police shooting is currently under investigation.
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