San Francisco Officer Not Guilty of Using Excessive Force

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A man and a woman wearing face masks walk into a courtroom.
San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel (center) and lawyer Nicole Pifari (right) walk into the courtroom at the San Francisco Hall of Justice on Feb. 8, 2022. Stangel, who faced assault and battery charges, was found not guilty on March 7, 2022. (Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

A San Francisco police officer was found not guilty in the 2019 beating of a man with a baton in what’s believed to be the city’s first trial against an officer over excessive force allegations while on duty.

A jury on Monday found Terrance Stangel not guilty of three charges of assault and battery he faced after striking Dacari Spiers with his baton several times, breaking his wrist and leg.

The jury deadlocked on a fourth charge of unlawfully beating Spiers under color of authority.

Stangel and his partner, Officer Cuauhtémoc Martínez, were responding to 911 calls about a man choking and dragging a woman near Fisherman’s Wharf when they encountered Spiers and his then-girlfriend on Oct. 7, 2019.

Martínez, who was not charged in the case, immediately grabbed Spiers while ordering him to get against the wall. Neither officer gave him reasonable commands before Stangel started beating him with his baton, landing at least seven blows, prosecutors said.


“Five strikes when he’s lying on the ground, in the fetal position, writhing in pain, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of assault and battery,” Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Young said during closing arguments in the three-week trial.

Stangel was charged with four felonies, including battery causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury and assault under the color of authority.

Spiers was never charged with any crime and later received a $700,000 civil settlement from the city.

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“This case was sabotaged from day one by police officers and investigators who simply will not allow police officers to be held accountable for perpetrating violence,” Curtis Briggs, Spiers's attorney, said in a statement. “The system for investigating police misconduct is completely dysfunctional and broken. This case has highlighted that.”

Stangel testified that his aim was to protect his partner from a violent man after the interaction between Martínez and Spiers quickly turned into a melee.

“I was trying to get him to stop fighting my partner and I was trying to get us out of the situation without getting hurt,” Stangel said.

His defense attorney, Nicole Pifari, said Stangel used necessary force to control a violent situation created by Spiers. She called the case politically motivated.

”We are thankful that the jury was able to see through the dishonesty of the DA’s office in this case and see it for what it was—unjust and unsupported,” she said in a statement. “Everyone should be deeply concerned about this case, about this District Attorney, and about the rule of law in San Francisco. It doesn’t matter if the DA is from the right or the left, he or she should apply the law fairly and honestly, without tipping the scales of justice to meet a political agenda.”

Stangel is one of six officers who have been charged by San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender who was elected DA in 2019 as part of a national wave of progressive prosecutors opposed to mass incarceration.

The prosecution became a flashpoint between Boudin and San Francisco Police Chief William Scott amid competing claims that both agencies had withheld evidence.

A district attorney’s office investigator testified that she felt pressured to sign an affidavit against Stangel that left out evidence that could possibly have helped him, but U.S. District Court Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled that the evidence would not have affected the case. The judge also fined the city, saying that the police department failed to disclose three interviews with officers who were involved, Mission Local first reported.

During the trial, Scott terminated an agreement that allows the district attorney’s office to investigate police shootings, excessive use of force and in-custody deaths, citing serious concerns over the office’s impartiality. Both agreed to let the agreement stand for another two months after the state attorney general’s office intervened.

After the verdict was announced, the San Francisco Police Officers Association said it was satisfied with the trial's outcome and that the focus should be on keeping San Francisco safe.

“We are pleased that this jury focused on the facts, evidence, and the law and was not distracted by other factors in reaching their not guilty verdicts on three of the four charges before them,” Tracy McCray, the association's acting president, said in a statement.

But Rachel Marshall, a spokesperson for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, said the trial underscored the myriad challenges of holding police accountable.

“We've seen the ways in which a victim of police violence, as often is the case, is really dirtied up by the defense and has tried to be criminalized and be dehumanized,” she said. “Dacari Spiers was the victim of a brutal beating that resulted in a $700,000 settlement. And at the same time, just throughout this trial, the defense tried to criminalize him and tried to put him on trial as they dragged him through the mud.”

This article includes reporting from The Associated Press and KQED's Alex Emslie.