The City of San Francisco doesn’t want a jury to hear citizens’ reactions to the police-caused death of Mario Woods–a black man whose body, front and back, was riddled by 20 gunshot wounds after he refused to drop a knife while walking down the street in late 2015.
Video of the incident unsealed late last year shows Woods’ final moments as police initially unload a series of bean bags into him before opening fire. Caught on a cell phone, the footage contains audio in which at least one bystander can be heard repeatedly imploring Woods to “drop the knife.”
After the barrage of bullets and blood, however, audible criticism is directed at the San Francisco Police Department.
“They just killed him, dude!” a man says. “That’s unnecessary, man, that’s fucking unnecessary.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” another person shouts in disgust.
The officers responsible for Woods’ death were controversially cleared of criminal wrongdoing in May 2018. A civil lawsuit, however, is about to head to trial and will be overseen by Barack Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick III.
Lawyers for the City of San Francisco recently asked Orrick to dismiss the lawsuit, while civil rights attorneys argued that the eleventh-hour filing was improper because it violated a standing order that specifies an exact time-frame for submitting such motions.
According to Courthouse News, Orrick is unlikely to side with San Francisco here–due to the blatant disregard for the court’s rules–but the judge will hold a hearing on several motions submitted in the case next Monday, which might include the city’s motion to dismiss.
Another motion filed by the city’s lawyers may have a bit more luck–the aforementioned ask to keep citizen’s reaction to Woods’ death away from jurors.
The motion reads, in relevant part:
The audio portion of the cell phone video tapes include hearsay comments irrelevant to the issues at trial and prejudicial to the defendants. Unknown persons can be heard speaking, shouting, and screaming on some of the videos. Some (“drop the knife”) are heard before the shooting. Most of the comments occur after the event. While some of the comments (“drop the knife”) may be relevant and germane to establishing a fact that could be in dispute, other comments (“are you fucking kidding me” and “that was unnecessary”) are inadmissible opinion testimony, prejudicial and irrelevant. The audio should be edited or muted in part.
In turn, civil rights attorneys have argued that jurors should hear the full audio under two hearsay exceptions which allow into evidence “present sense impressions and excited utterances.”
“The aforementioned statements are interspersed throughout the video and intertwined with other commentary and remarks the [City of San Francisco] apparently do[es] not object to,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys note at one point in their own motion.
“[T]he jury is entitled to view and hear the videos of the incident without redaction or modification,” the plaintiffs insist later on.
The City of San Francisco also has a few more things they’d like to keep away from jurors ears.
Court documents filed by the Golden City request that all characterizations of the killing as a “murder” be disallowed, as well as any references to any past bad behavior by or complaints filed against the officers who killed Woods. Additionally, San Francisco aims to keep out several expert witnesses prepared to testify that officers used excessive force and that Woods’ mother was subject to psychological trauma by the death of her son.
San Francisco also thinks jurors shouldn’t be allowed to see crime scene or autopsy photos of Woods–claiming that such images are “irrelevant” and “unfairly prejudicial.”
[Image via Youtube/screengrab]