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Video of San Francisco police shooting sets off debate

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SAN FRANCISCO » A cellphone video of San Francisco police officers cornering and fatally shooting a man in San Francisco has sparked a debate over the officers’ response, but the police chief is standing by his officers’ actions.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that members of the public and civil rights activists, who gathered at the shooting scene Thursday, decried police actions.

They say it was a blatant example of an overuse of force on a man who suffered from mental illness and posed little to no threat. Woods died after at least five officers fired at him about 15 times Wednesday.

Police Chief Greg Suhr says the officers were justified in shooting at Mario Woods, who investigators said was armed with a knife and was suspected in an earlier stabbing.

In the video it is unclear if the 26-year-old was armed. The camera turned away as the gunfire started.

Suhr said when Woods refused to drop the knife, the officers tried other tactics to disarm him and take him into custody. Suhr said they shot five non-lethal beanbag rounds. They also used pepper spray, but he still did not drop the knife, Suhr said.

Mayor Ed Lee said his first thought upon seeing the video, he said, was: “Drop the damn knife.” He added, however, that that does not mean he has concluded who was right or wrong in the incident.

“Any time — any time — there is a shooting, I take that extremely seriously and so does our chief,” Lee told the Chronicle. “Once an investigation has made determinations, he said, “We’ll make sure the community knows about this.”

Suhr echoed the mayor’s promise of a thorough investigation, but said it appeared that the officers were justified in shooting Woods. He referenced Woods’ criminal background. Woods served time in prison for robbery and is listed as part of the city’s gang injunction related to the Oakdale Mob street gang.

“It’s a tragic loss anytime somebody dies,” Suhr said. “We never want to do that. But this is all they could do. I really don’t know how much more you can make it plain to a wanted felon that he should drop the knife.”

Many called the shooting “an execution” and said they thought police could have used other tactics.

A community meeting to discuss the incident is at 6 p.m. today at the City College of San Francisco southeast campus.

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