San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr stepped down Thursday at the request of the city’s mayor, hours after a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black woman -- the latest in a series of scandals that have rocked the department, prompting a federal probe and public demand for reform.
In an announcement that caught many residents off guard, Mayor Edwin Lee said he met with Suhr and asked for his resignation after learning of the deadly shooting of a black woman in the Bayview neighborhood earlier in the day.
Lee had previously expressed confidence in Suhr, praising the chief for understanding the need for reform, even as public calls had mounted for his ouster. But the mayor said progress has been too slow.
“These officer-involved shootings, justified or not, have forced our City to open its eyes to questions of when and how police use lethal force,” Lee said in a statement at City Hall. “The progress we’ve made has been meaningful, but it hasn’t been fast enough. Not for me, not for Greg. ... The men and women of SFPD put themselves in harm’s way literally every day. We owe it to them to restore the community’s trust in their work.”
Suhr tendered his resignation, Lee said. Toney Chaplin, a 26-year department veteran who previously led the department’s homicide division, was named acting police chief.
For more than a year, San Francisco police have been under scrutiny as several scandals unfolded, seeing officers accused of violating citizens’ civil rights, exchanging racist text messages and impeding criminal investigation.
Last year, a federal grand jury convicted an officer of violating a person's civil rights while conducting unlawful searches at a downtown hotel that serves the poor.
Public calls for reform escalated after cellphone video recorded five police officers shooting and killing 26-year-old Mario Woods, in the same neighborhood where the woman was fatally shot Thursday by police.
The department said that shortly before 10 a.m., two officers spotted a suspected stolen car with a woman in the driver's seat, and after officers tried to make contact, the woman drove off. The woman eventually collided with a truck near the dead-end of a street and as officers tried to take her into custody, she moved the vehicle. At some point, one of the officers opened fire, striking her. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital, police said.
Civil rights activists demanded a federal investigation into the killing of Woods, a black man who was struck by more than 20 bullets. In February, the Department of Justice launched a two-year review of the police department, which Lee requested.
Anger over Woods’ killing was compounded by a judge’s decision that officers who exchanged racist and homophobic text messages could keep their jobs.
The racist text messages found on officers’ cellphones embroiled more than a dozen officers and put more than 3,000 criminal cases in jeopardy, including several homicides.
In April, a second text-messaging scandal rocked the department, revealing that officers referred to minorities as “barbarians,” “cockroaches” and other slurs. A former lieutenant was also charged with impeding the investigation of a fellow officer accused of rape.
After the discovery of the racist text messages last year, Suhr and city leaders had pledged to implement a host of reforms to add officer training against implicit bias and increase accountability for officers who don’t report misconduct by their colleagues.
"Some of the reforms underway might have prevented or clarified today's incident," Lee said.
After the resignation was announced, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the city was at a crossroads.
“The question I have," Adachi said, "is whether or not we're going to bring on leadership that is truly committed to changing the culture in the police department, or will it be business as usual?"
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9:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information and quotes.
6:42 p.m.: This article was updated with additional statements from the mayor and public defender.