Haight community meeting highlights lack of transparency in wake of FBI-involved shooting

Haight community meeting highlights lack of transparency in wake of FBI-involved shooting
Graffiti on Haight Street reads "Put your guns down, hands up, stop shooting us." | Photo: Haight Ashbury Today/Instagram
By Camden Avery - Published on February 19, 2020.

Yesterday, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston's office hosted a community meeting to discuss the Feb. 8 shooting of a local musician by an off-duty FBI agent at Haight and Ashbury streets.

Tad Crane, 24, was shot by the off-duty agent after he allegedly threw Crane's friend against the wall to search him for marijuana. Crane says he yelled at the agent, who then pulled a gun; Crane lifted his shirt up to show he was unarmed, and the agent shot him.

Crane remains hospitalized with serious gunshot wounds to his chest. On Feb. 10, a group of Haight Street locals demonstrated at SFPD's Park Station to protest the mistreatment of Crane, who had recently secured housing after years of living in an RV and on the streets. 

Yesterday's meeting, attended by over 100 people, was headlined by Sup. Preston; Mary Howe of the Homeless Youth Alliance, of which Crane is a client; SFPD commander Peter Walsh; and Andrew Lah, the managing attorney of the San Francisco District Attorney's independent investigations bureau.

Earlier that day, the FBI had released an official statement on the shooting. But attendees repeatedly expressed frustration with its lack of transparency. 

Many questions about the shooting remain: Who was the agent? Why was he carrying a firearm off-duty? Why did he allegedly assault Crane's friend while off the job, and without showing his badge? Was he tested to determine if he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the shooting? Will any disciplinary actions be taken against him?

Lah, Preston and Walsh told the audience that they're in the dark because the FBI, which is currently handling the investigation internally, has put all new information on lockdown. Per the FBI's internal policy, the involved agent's name can't be released without his consent.

"What was an FBI agent doing on the scene in the first place?" Preston asked. "I have asked the FBI that, and have not gotten an answer yet."

Because it remains a federal investigation, Buttar said, "there is nothing that anyone in this room, including any [city officials], can do about it." 

Asked why the agent wasn't arrested on the spot, Lah cited protocol for officer-involved shootings.

"We treat this as an officer-involved shooting, regardless of whether the officer was on duty at the time," Lah said. "We are allowed certain uses of force that the general public is not."

"The investigation is still very much on the go," Lah added. "And I know that probably doesn't satisfy folks."

Attorney Shahid Buttar, who is currently running against Nancy Pelosi for the Congressional seat representing California's 12th district, told the crowd that Pelosi, as the city's federal representative, should intervene. Preston agreed, encouraging concerned attendees to contact Pelosi's office.

The FBI's statement said that the investigation could take "several months," but that information about its findings would be released publicly at some point. The agency also attempted to reassure locals "that there is no known threat to public safety that we are aware of at this time."

Meanwhile, for many of the housed and unhoused community members at the meeting, the incident highlights a power imbalance between law enforcement and the homeless.

"People who are unhoused generally feel unsafe, and live in a very unsafe environment," the Homeless Youth Alliance's Howe said. "They do not have the privilege of being indoors or getting information."

"I think it's very unsettling, the lack of transparency that happens with an FBI-related shooting. It's frustrating that we do not know the officer's identity — that's really hard for a community that's constantly scrutinized and under surveillance."

"Y'all want us dead," one attendee told the panel. "You blow us off, all the time. We always get placated, we always get blown off, we always get shot."