The California Department of Justice has taken over the investigation into a deadly police shooting Thursday at San Francisco’s airport after authorities determined the suspect—initially believed to be armed with two handguns—was carrying airsoft guns.
But in a twist Friday, the San Francisco Police Department—the agency whose officers shot the man to death—maintained that the man was carrying a handgun. Meanwhile, other agencies involved in the case have been releasing more information about the shooting while also confirming that the alleged handguns were actually airsoft guns.
The shooting occurred around 7:30 a.m. inside the airport's international terminal after 911 callers reported a suspicious man, authorities said. The suspect allegedly demonstrated "threatening behavior” and officers fired less-lethal munitions before opening fire with their guns.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, whose office was initially investigating the shooting because San Francisco International Airport is located in his jurisdiction, told The Standard that the state Attorney General’s Office took over the case early Thursday afternoon—when authorities determined the firearms were airsoft guns.
Wagstaffe said the man killed by police was also found to be in possession of a knife.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Justice confirmed in an email that the suspect did not possess real guns. “An airsoft gun—like a replica gun—is not considered a deadly weapon unless it is used in some particular manner likely to produce death or great bodily injury (e.g., as a bludgeon)," an officials said. "However, it's not the same as replica gun, which is incapable of firing."
The state is required to investigate any police killing of an unarmed person under a new state law that went into effect last July.
A homeless bystander was also injured in the incident. Authorities have not disclosed how the man was hurt but his injuries were not considered life threatening.
Officer Robert Rueca, a San Francisco police spokesperson, declined to answer many of The Standard’s questions about the shooting in an email Friday afternoon, but he maintained that the man was armed with a "handgun."
When given a chance to confirm the guns were airsoft weapons, Rueca simply noted that the man was "armed." Below are The Standard's questions and the department's answers:
The Police Department will be required to hold a public meeting to release more details about the shooting within 10 days of the incident.
Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected]