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San Francisco public defender alleges racial bias in police shooting case

A still from police bodycam footage shows a police officer pointing a rifle.
San Francisco police officers engaged in a standoff in the Mission district with Jose Corvera, as seen in bodycam footage from a town hall about the shooting. | Courtesy San Francisco Police Department | Source: Courtesy San Francisco Police Department

Jose Corvera, an unhoused man with mental health challenges and limited English proficiency, was riding a bike in the Mission District in San Francisco in August 2022. As he rode, he held another bike in tow alongside him. He was also in possession of a replica handgun, which the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said he used to protect himself on the streets.  

On that same day, police said they received a report of a stolen bicycle. Officers said they wanted to stop Corvera to question him. What ensued resulted in a street being blocked off, multiple San Francisco police units arriving—his attorney estimated nearly 80 officers—the appearance of two military-grade armored vehicles and Corvera being shot at approximately 15 times from four different officers, including one shot that nearly missed his head, his attorney said.  

READ MORE: SFPD Allegedly Shot at Fellow Officers in Pursuit of Man Firing Blanks

Corvera was never charged with being in possession of a stolen bike. Instead, he was charged with resisting arrest, brandishing a replica firearm and interfering with the lawful performance of a police officer. His trial began in early November but ended in a hung jury, leading the public defender’s office to argue—not for the first time—that Corvera should never have been approached in the first place. The office said some jurors told them that they felt police had confronted their client for racially motivated reasons. 

A still from bodycam footage shows an officer drawing their gun.
A still from police bodycam footage shows SFPD officers engaged in a standoff in the Mission District with Jose Corvera. | Source: Courtesy San Francisco Police Department

Now the Public Defender’s Office has filed a Racial Justice Act claim in Corvera’s case. The claims are based on a state law that went into effect in 2021 that allows defendants to raise issues of bias in their cases based on race, ethnicity or national origin.  

“Mr. Corvera was unjustly singled out by the police based on racial stereotypes of Latinx people, of the unhoused and of their rights to possess things like bikes,” said attorney Kathleen Natividad in a statement released by the Public Defender’s Office Wednesday.  

READ MORE: SF Police Release Video of Mission Shooting, Questions Remain About ‘Friendly Fire’

On Thursday, police spokesperson Sgt. Kathryn Winters said that the Public Defender’s Office is entitled to mount whatever defense it deems appropriate for its client.

“It is up to the courts to determine if the defense has merit,” wrote Winters in an email. “The merits of their claim will be argued in court.  As for this case, there is a parallel administrative investigation that will examine the officers actions and determine whether they were in policy from the stop through the officer involved shooting.” 

The exterior of a building with a large circular seal that reads "Seal of the City of San Francisco" and under that read "Hall of Justice".
The Public Defender's Office has filed a Racial Justice Act claim in the case of Jose Corvera, an unhoused man in San Francisco who is charged with resisting arrest, brandishing a replica firearm and interfering with the lawful performance of a police officer. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Winters declined to comment further on the case or whether officers approached Corvera out of bias.  

“Because of the pending criminal trial and the pending administrative investigation, we will not speak to the veracity of Mr. Corvera’s defense, as it would be inappropriate for us to make public statements that could result in claims that conditions exist that prevent a fair trial for the defendant,” she said.  

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott held a town hall soon after the shooting, as he does with any police shooting. The department played body-worn camera images of the encounter that showed the gradual buildup of police the morning of Aug. 6, 2022.  

San Francisco Police Department Police Chief Bill Scott, wearing a police uniform holds out his right hand as he gives as speech to a group of people during a press conference to celebrate the reopening of the U.N Plaza which included a skateboard park.
San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott appears at a press conference. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

According to Cmdr. Paul Yep, Corvera was pursued onto Shotwell Street and an officer reported seeing a gun in his hand. Corvera can be seen holding what looked like a gun in the footage.  

Corvera crouched down behind a car and pointed the replica firearm at the officers, who in turn pulled out their weapons. Corvera can be heard on audio recordings of the incident yelling, “Get out of here!” and, “I don’t need no help.”  

Police discharged their firearms, but no one was hurt. Eventually, Corvera tossed his fake gun into the street. Police allege his gun then fired, but there is no sound on the audio to confirm this, except for an officer saying, “It went off when he threw it.”  

At the time of the town hall, the Public Defender’s Office said the stop by police had “instigated and escalated a situation which endangered the public, Mr. Corvera, and members of the SFPD.”  

The RJA hearing is set for Dec. 13. and due to the mistrial, prosecutors are pursuing another trial that is scheduled to begin Dec. 29. Public Defender Mano Raju on Wednesday urged the District Attorney’s Office to drop the case. 

The District Attorney’s Office was contacted for comment.