Bay Area/ Oakland/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on April 19, 2024
SFPD Officers Cleared by California DOJ in SFO Fatal Shooting of Suspected Gunman Nelson SzetoSource: Google Street View

The California Department of Justice has finally spoken out regarding last year's fatal officer-involved shooting at San Francisco International Airport, concluding that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers who shot Nelson Szeto will not face criminal charges. The decision was made public in a detailed analysis report by Attorney General Rob Bonta's office, which describes the event that began with Szeto displaying what turned out to be air-soft guns. Officers ordered the suspect to drop his weapons for close to 45 minutes before he was shot when he appeared to raise a gun at them, as per the findings on the California DOJ website.

Despite the conclusion that no charges are to be brought forth, the DOJ acknowledged there are important lessons to be learned from the incident. "Loss of life is always a tragedy. It is hard to reckon with the fact that one person lost their life that day and a bystander was injured during this incident," said Bonta via the California DOJ. The incident also inadvertently resulted in a non-life-threatening injury to a bystander due to a likely ricocheted bullet. As part of the report, policy recommendations were issued, including improved communication protocols and the need for body-worn cameras for all officers.

37-year-old Szeto, who was reportedly possibly homeless with a previous address in SF's Chinatown, was fatally shot after allegedly failing to comply with the SFPD's orders, the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office informed. The incident started after airport authorities reported Szeto's erratic behavior near the BART Station entrance at SFO. The two firearms he brandished were later identified as replica, Airsoft-style pistols, according to a report shared by SFist.

In hindsight, the Attorney General's office has put forth several policy recommendations, suggesting that the SFPD equip all officers with body cameras and conduct reviews on communication improvements. The DOJ also recommended that the SFPD review its policy and training updates to handle crisis intervention scenarios better. "It is recommended that the issues identified herein to determine if additional training of the officers is necessary," read a part of the DOJ report.

This case marks the first officer-involved shooting of an unarmed suspect in the Bay Area to be investigated under AB 1506, a law mandating such investigations by the state's Department of Justice, as highlighted by SFist. The AG's office has taken over the investigation to ensure transparency and accountability within law enforcement for the residents of California.