A San Francisco police officer under criminal investigation killed himself Wednesday after internal affairs investigators came to his home with a search warrant, according to sources with knowledge of the incident.
Sgt. Chris Morris, 40—a 16-year veteran of the department on administrative leave at the time of his death—shot himself after officers arrived around 1:30 p.m. at his house on Moscow Street near Russia Avenue in the Excelsior, sources said.
SFPD acknowledged the open investigation into Morris but did not give additional details.
The department did say that officers entered a home on the 500 block of Moscow Street after learning the occupant had suffered from a self inflicted gunshot wound.
“Officers entered the residence, located the victim, rendered aid and summoned medics to the scene,” a department spokesperson said. “The victim was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.”
Morris’ father, Dennis Morris, said in a phone call Wednesday with The Standard that his son’s death was unrelated to police work.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association sent a message to its members Thursday notifying them about Morris’s death.
“It is with the utmost sadness that I inform you of the passing of Sgt. Chris Morris,” POA President Tracy McCray wrote. “… He served this department and the citizens of San Francisco faithfully and with honor for 16 years. We send our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, loved ones and co-workers.”
Morris’s suicide comes at a time when authorities in the field are reporting low morale among law enforcement officers, who have faced increased scrutiny in recent years due to changing regulations, political pressure to reform policing and mistrust from the public.
Just last week, McCray told the city’s Police Commission that more than half the SFPD force plans to leave due to low morale. Police Chief Bill Scott said an internal department survey echoed that sentiment.
Law Enforcement Suicides
Last year, 136 law enforcement officers in the U.S. died by suicide, according to Blue Help, which was formed to counter stigma around mental health issues in the field and has tracked such statistics since 2016.
Blue Help’s numbers show that the suicide rate among law enforcement officers nationally has declined since a peak of 197 in 2019.
California has seen three police suicides so far this year, according to Blue Help—a dramatic decline from a peak of 20 in 2019.
The FBI only recently began collecting such statistics but has yet to release its first report.
Since 2000, nine San Francisco police officers have killed themselves, according to SFPD data.
The most recent high-profile SFPD suicide occured in 2017, when officer Antonio Malinao Cacatian killed himself after being pulled over by Richmond police. He was under investigation at the time for allegedly sexually assualting a minor.
A Veteran of the Force
Morris had served at a number of stations, including Park and Ingleside.
Some of Morris’s biography was detailed in a letter penned by his father, former San Francisco prosecutor Dennis Morris, that ran in the May 2009 issue of the POA journal.
According to that letter, Morris was born and raised in San Francisco. He graduated from Sacred Heart Cathedral High School and played football, baseball and soccer. He was in the 212th police academy.
“I am extremely proud of my son, Chris!” his father wrote. “His desire to join the SFPD is a reflection of my affinity for the department and by the fact that over the course of my 26 years of working with the San Francisco Police Department I have had several police officers to my house talking about cases, reviewing search warrants, or being protected by the Taraval undercovers [sic] officers for a week when I was threatened by a big drug dealer many years ago.”
The letter also noted that Morris’s cousin, Ron Vernali, was also a police officer.
Morris had a twin brother who died in 2009, according to his obituary.
Morris has never been involved in a police shooting, according to department records.
He did have several run-ins with the law, although none of those incidents resulted in criminal charges, according to a source with knowledge of the incidents.
He was detained in 2011 after punching a taxi driver who told him to get out of his cab; he was not arrested.
Then, in 2013, he was at a bar with a friend who got into a fight. Morris was again detained but not arrested or charged.
In the 2009 letter former assistant district attorney Morris wrote about his now deceased son, he noted that he “wanted to write a note about his son, Chris, and their ‘legacy’ within the San Francisco law enforcement community.”
Through a spokesperson, Chief Scott offered condolences for Morris’s death on behalf of SFPD’s command staff. He said the department’s Behavioral Science Unit has offered counseling to his family and colleagues.Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected].
Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected].