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Man killed by S.F. police wrote suicide note to officers

Man who died in a 'suicide by cop' incident left a note on his phone telling officers they did nothing wrong

"Dear Officer(s), you did nothing wrong," began the note that Matthew Hoffman, 32, wrote to the San Francisco police officers who he hoped would take his life.

Hoffman reportedly confronted three San Francisco police sergeants outside the Police Department's parking lot Sunday. He displayed a pellet gun, authorities said, and was shot dead.

According to a suicide note that his father allowed police to release, Hoffman had no intention of firing the weapon, but wanted officers to believe he would.

Hoffman wrote that he would give the officers "no choice" but to take action.

"I threatened your life as well as the lives of those around me," Hoffman wrote. "You were completely within your legal rights to do what you did."

The note was one of several Hoffman left behind, including letters to family, said Officer Albie Esparza. In his note to police, Hoffman described himself as "hopeless" and "lonely."

The note struck people who read it at the Police Department hard.

"I can tell you, some people who read the note were emotional. This is a sad story that this person was disturbed to this point. That they saw no other exit," Esparza said.

On Tuesday night, police hosted a town hall meeting with Mission neighborhood residents to go over the facts of the case, just as they have done since 2009 in any neighborhood where an officer-involved shooting leaves a suspect dead or wounded.

"A lot of these officer-involved shootings … you have second- and third-hand information that causes more of a divide with the community," Esparza said. "That's why it's extremely important, so they hear it directly with factual information."

There was not much to explain Hoffman's actions shortly after he was shot to death Sunday. The killing was the culmination of two odd encounters that Hoffman had with police, beginning hours earlier at 16th and Mission streets.

Hoffman approached two officers working another incident and asked "what kind of guns San Francisco police officers carry, what kind of ammunition and if they had been involved in any officer-involved shootings," the department said in a statement.

The officers ignored Hoffman and moved on, police said. Later, the three sergeants saw Hoffman in a restricted area of the Mission station parking lot and told him to leave, Police Chief Greg Suhr told reporters Sunday night.

Hoffman initially walked away, but then turned and faced the officers, Suhr said in a statement.

Hoffman began to back away from officers but kept his hands in his sweater pockets before reaching down and pulling up his sweater to show the butt of a gun tucked into his waistband, police said. Hoffman was shot three times.

When police checked, the weapon turned out to be a pellet gun. Hoffman was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead just before 8 p.m. The officers involved in the shooting have been put on paid administrative leave, which is routine after such incidents.

The notes investigators found on Hoffman's cellphone "changes the dynamic" of the incident, Esparza said.

"In this case, we didn't know … it was a suicide by cop," he said.

Esparza said he wishes things had turned out differently for Hoffman.

"There's help out there for people," he said. "We wish there was a different outcome."

That Hoffman left a note explaining his intentions to the officers who shot him may actually make it tougher for them, said Gail Wyatt, professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities.

"When you shoot and kill someone you think has a weapon, it may just be easily justifiable," she said. "But if you know this is a person who is unhappy, depressed, and [is allowing] you to do for himself what he probably didn't want to do, it personalizes it."

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