Officer Grace Gatpandan, a San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman, told KQED's Sukey Lewis on Wednesday that LaBouvier's video failed to show the episode in its entirety. To give a more complete picture of what happened, she said, the department is seeking video that shows the events leading up to the sequence that LaBouvier made public.
In explaining the police response, Gatpandan said that around noon on Aug. 4, officers on patrol near U.N. Plaza -- at Eighth and Market streets -- "observed a subject who was waving sticks around."
"Officers decided to exit their vehicle and contact the person, just due to the fact he possibly demonstrated a danger to other people who were in the vicinity of him," Gatpandan said.
She said the officers asked the man to drop the sticks, which LaBouvier and other witnesses say were actually the man's crutches. The man refused and walked away, ventured out into Market Street and told officers he didn't care if he was hit by a vehicle, Gatpandan said.
"In this case, because he has demonstrated that he is a danger to himself and others, he fits the criteria for a mental health detention," Gatpandan said. That's a 72-hour hold in a local hospital to conduct a medical and psychiatric evaluation.
"We believed he was in an altered mental state, and so we wanted him to get the medical attention he needed," Gatpandan said.
Gatpandan said she didn't know whether any of the dozen-plus officers who eventually responded to the scene had received formal crisis intervention training.
The need for such training has been highlighted by a series of high-profile incidents in the past decade. Those include a 2008 case in which two officers shot a mentally ill woman and a 2011 episode captured on video in which officers shot a wheelchair-bound man on a South of Market street after he threw a knife. A review of San Francisco police shootings by KQED colleagues Alex Emslie and Rachael Bale found that 11 of the 19 people who officers shot and killed between 2005 and 2013 were mentally ill.
San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos is among those demanding that the department explain how it handled the incident.
"The question is, where was the crisis intervention team?" Avalos said Wednesday. "Did they use the crisis intervention team on this arrest? Did they actually follow the procedures? Those are the questions I think that should be in place, and there should be an investigation to see what happened, where things broke down. Because things clearly broke down. This man’s dignity was taken away from him."
LaBouvier's post on Medium focuses on both that dignity question and on what she describes as the commonplace nature of police abuse:
This isn’t a video of a man getting killed. Some might watch this and think in that general, indemnifying way, that this video is an exceptional case of an isolated case of poor policing. I’d have to disagree — and not respectfully — with you.
These incidents are so quotidian, so mundane, that they do not merit a mention in even passing on the local news. Which is to say, this is everyday harassment. Which is to say, that we’ve normalized and habitualized the kind of policing in San Francisco and the rest of America that brutalizes the most vulnerable people, which strips them of their human dignity, the agency to their bodies — to walk with crutches when physically disabled, to have this body unviolated — when in actuality, they are whom the police are especially supposed to be protecting.