From Commendation to Reprimand: Discipline in Daly City Police Shooting Revealed

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A former Daly City police officer received a public commendation for shooting a domestic violence suspect in the arm in 2016, and a year later, he was disciplined in secret for that same shooting.

The internal investigation of Officer Peter Nelson’s conduct was released by Daly City Tuesday under the state’s police transparency law. The records show a rare case of a police department disciplining an officer for violating policies during a shooting.

Nelson couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

On Feb. 8, 2016, Nelson and his partner, Officer Marilyn Drexler, responded to reports of a man with a gun or a knife chasing a woman through an apartment complex in Daly City. When officers arrived, Shikeb Saddozai ran into a backyard area and they followed, according to the administrative investigation.

Nelson was in the lead. He pointed his gun at Saddozai and yelled for him to stop. Drexler also pointed her gun at the suspect and shouted commands, records show.

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Nelson said that as Saddozai reached into his right pocket he said, “just shoot me.”

Saddozai then pulled out what looked like a blue pen and stabbed himself in the neck with it, according to the records. When he tried to stab himself a second time, Nelson shot him in the arm, and he fell backward.

“I believed this person was going to harm, to further harm himself,” Nelson explained to investigators.

“You can’t discharge your firearm to stop someone from injuring themselves,” said Robert Howie, an attorney who represented Saddozai in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city stemming from this incident.

The shooting caused nerve damage to Saddozai’s hand, Howie said. Saddozai sued Daly City and Nelson in federal court in 2017, and the case was settled by the city for $200,000, Howie said.

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Howie said the officers were straightforward in their testimony about the shooting at Saddozai’s criminal trial.

“It wasn’t a dramatic case of finding someone trying to talk their way out of something,” he said.

San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe wrote to Daly City administrators that he had concerns about the shooting, but did not file criminal charges against Nelson because he thought it “unlikely” that a jury “would find beyond a reasonable doubt that his conduct in discharging his firearm was an unreasonable use of force under all of the circumstances.”

Howie, who used to be a prosecutor in Contra Costa County, said he agreed with Wagstaffe’s decision, but that if Saddozai had been killed by Nelson’s bullet, that calculus might change.

Initially, both officers received commendations from then-Daly City Police Chief Manuel Martinez Jr. for “their courageous and tenacious actions in taking a violent career criminal into custody,” according to a news reports citing a department Facebook post, which appears to have since been removed.

Roughly a year later, however, department investigators concluded Nelson shot Saddozai unnecessarily.

“It was determined you did not use reasonable force when attempting to take the suspect into custody,” a Feb. 24, 2017, reprimand letter states, “and therefore you were not in compliance with departmental policy.”

That letter was signed by current Daly City Police Chief Patrick Hensley, who was the department’s field operations bureau commander at the time. Neither Hensley nor Daly City’s city manager responded immediately to requests for comment. Martinez, who now works for the Salinas Police Department, said he couldn’t comment on the incident.

As part of the discipline for violating his department’s use-of-force policy, Nelson was required to complete additional training. Three months after he was reprimanded in February 2017, Nelson retired after a 28-year career with the department.

Nelson’s partner, Officer Drexler, told investigators that she did not fear for her life during the confrontation with Saddozai.

“It happened so fast,” she said, according to records from the internal investigation. “Probably just in general it was a fearful situation, but I wasn't in fear for my safety in that second, I did not see a weapon pointed at me."

Drexler said she only saw a blue pen.

"I would be pretty darn sure that wasn't a gun," Drexler said.

She also told investigators that Saddozai was standing when Nelson shot him and was not aggressive.

Three months after the shooting, Drexler left the department after 30 years with Daly City. She is now a detective with Piedmont police, according to a state database of peace officers.

Saddozai was convicted in 2017 of attempted murder of his girlfriend and is currently serving time at California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. He has prior convictions in San Mateo County going back to a 2012 case in which he was charged with a number of felonies including kidnapping and sexual assault, according to court records.

This story was produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of 40 newsrooms across the state to obtain and report on police misconduct and serious use-of-force records unsealed in 2019.

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