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Man Killed in SF Police Shooting Was a Homeless Cuban Immigrant: ‘He Was Tired of Being Out on the Streets’
Thursday, June 30, 2022

Man Killed in SF Police Shooting Was a Homeless Cuban Immigrant: ‘He Was Tired of Being Out on the Streets’

One of the two men killed in a police shooting that unfolded last week after officers responded to an assault in Dogpatch was a Cuban immigrant who lived on the streets of San Francisco, The Standard has learned.

Rafael Mendoza, 49, died from a bullet wound after four officers saw two men fighting with a knife and discharged their weapons at Mariposa and Owens streets on the evening of May 19, according to authorities.

The other man, Michael MacFhionghain, 57, also died after being shot multiple times.

SFPD has released scant details about the shooting, even declining to confirm whether Mendoza or MacFhionghain were struck by police bullets. It’s also unclear which of the two men had the knife or who was the aggressor.

However, the California Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the shooting, suggesting that one of the men was unarmed. The DOJ initiated the probe under a new state law requiring independent investigations whenever police shoot someone who’s unarmed. The agency cited “uncertainty” over the incident as the cause for the probe.

Mendoza immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a child only to find himself locked in cycles of homelessness and petty crime as an adult, according to an attorney who represented him at the time of his death. He had an adult son but lacked support from his family.

“As far as I knew him, he was a desperate person who committed crimes of desperation,” said Alexandra Pray, a deputy public defender in San Francisco. “He was always very sweet and gentle when I met with him and I was just shocked to learn that he could be involved in a violent incident.”

Pray said Mendoza was chronically homeless for the last five years, mostly living in and around South of Market. He would frequent Seventh and King streets—not far from the shooting that killed him.

Pray acknowledged that Mendoza had a rap sheet that spanned more than two decades from an arson-related conviction in 1997 to a 2019 car burglary case. But Pray said Mendoza did not have a history of violence.

An SFPD vehicle sits in the Mission Police Station in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Shy Brown, an activist with the Coalition on Homelessness, said she first met Mendoza while doing outreach along Division Street during the pandemic.

Brown remembered how Mendoza would hold up a sign on the side of the road, asking for money. He would push his belongings in a shopping cart, sleep in tents and move around a lot. 

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“He was tired of being out on the streets, doing what he was doing, going back and forth into jail,” Brown said. “He wanted to change, he wanted to do better for himself.”

Brown said she last spoke to him three weeks ago when he was hanging out by the Civic Center BART Station. She greeted him with a hug. “He said, ‘I’m doing good, I’m doing real good,’” Brown recalled.

Police have not identified the officers who discharged their weapons.

A police spokesperson declined to answer questions about the shooting Wednesday, saying SFPD was “precluded from disclosing further details” about the case beyond a brief statement issued the night of the incident. 

Police are expected to hold a virtual meeting at 3 p.m. Friday to disclose more information. The meeting will be streamed on YouTube and Facebook

Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected].
  • It will be interesting to hear and potentially see what happened and whether the actions of the officers were justified. All the SFPD members I know are scared of their own shadows, and never pull their weapons, because every time you do, you have to write a report on justification. We have seen rookie and poorly trained officers make bad decisions. I am withholding judgment until we see what transpired. Regardless, anytime someone loses their life, especially when they’ve led a hard life, it’s a tragedy.

  • Why was such a hardened criminal not deported back to his home country or in prison? No criminal is “locked in a cycle” of crime; he chose to commit crimes.

  • Because we don’t do that Frankie boy. And racism can lock people into a cycles of crime. The real question is why the duds at the Coalition on Homelessness and the endless millions they receive for us taxpayers can’t seem to produce any results. Time to stop funding these “non-profit” organizations.

  • I believe we need more ambassadors walking in all districts to get our unhoused individuals off the streets period. It is illegal and we must get tougher.

  • News Medias always target Police, so that Police dare not to do anything. This is the root cause of 19 kids were killed in Texas, while Texas Police was waiting outside for 1 hour. Blood in your hand too, Michael Barba.

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