By Adam Grossberg, Alex Emslie and Dan Brekke
A KQED analysis of an Instagram video showing last week’s fatal police shooting of Mario Woods appears to contradict claims by Police Chief Greg Suhr that officers opened fire only after Woods made a threatening movement.
Woods, reportedly a suspect in a stabbing in the Bayview on Wednesday afternoon, was killed after a confrontation that involved as many as a dozen officers. Five of them opened fire on Woods after failing to subdue him with less-than-lethal beanbag rounds and pepper spray.
During a community meeting in the Bayview neighborhood on Friday night and again on Monday, Suhr said the video showed Woods, whom police say was carrying a knife in his right hand, extend his arm toward one police officer. That movement, Suhr said Friday night as he presented blown-up images of the video, prompted that officer and four others to open fire.
According to the San Francisco Examiner’s account of the meeting, Suhr said: “We were able to enhance one second of the tweeted video… which shows the officer engaging with Mr. Woods and Mr. Woods’ arm with the knife outstretched. The officer fearing for his safety. … He fired in defense of himself and the other four officers fired in defense of that officer.”
After a Monday press conference called to discuss the Police Department’s use of force policy in the wake of the shooting, Suhr reiterated his claims about what the video shows.
“We took what is the eighth second of one of the 15-second YouTube videos, and we showed at the town hall the other day that when you do that it appears when you move it to step photography, that [Woods] does appear to raise his arm up and extend it toward the officer.”
Asked whether that movement happened before or after the first shot was fired, Suhr said, “It appears to be before any shots were fired.”
However, a careful review of the short Instagram video Suhr referred to suggests that officers opened fire a fraction of a second before Woods’ arm moved. In slowed-down versions of the video, the first shot is clearly audible before Woods extends his arm. In addition, in the moment Woods’ arm moves, his body appears to be moving backward, as if recoiling from being struck by a gunshot.
Although KQED’s analysis is based on the same video Suhr used during Friday night’s community meeting, there are potential technical issues with the images and sound that should be kept in mind when viewing it. For instance, there is no guarantee that the audio and video are in perfect synchronization.
Also, we want to emphasize that we are not drawing any conclusions about the shooting itself. For instance, neither of the videos we display in the split screen above depict the events that led to the confrontation and fatal shooting. It appears that in the early seconds of the videos, Woods may be reacting to being struck by shotgun-fired beanbags — but we can’t say for sure.
Rather, our focus is limited to whether Chief Suhr’s account is borne out by the images to which he pointed. We conclude, based on the evidence available to us, that it does not.