Will “Tone-Deaf” SFPD Own Up to Its Botched Bike Crash Investigation?

SFPD investigators apparently never asked Golden Auto (seen here in the background) if it had surveillance footage of the crash that killed Amelie Le Moullac. It did. Photo: ##http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/local/police-obtain-surveillance-footage-fatal-bike-cras/nZbQ8/##KTVU##

The San Francisco Police Department has finally started to respond to the failure of its investigators to acquire camera footage of the truck crash that killed Amelie Le Moullac on her bike, as well as accusations of stonewalling the attorney representing the victim’s family.

But the department still hasn’t publicly acknowledged fumbling the investigation, nor has it commented on the behavior of Sergeant Richard Ernst, who showed up at a safe streets rally to block a bike lane and declare that Le Moullac was at fault for her own death.

SF Chronicle columnist Chuck Nevius — these days, a hit-or-miss commentator on bicycling issues — has reported some of the first responses to come from the department, which he called “tone-deaf” in an article yesterday.

According to Nevius, SFPD Chief Greg Suhr “probably intervened” and caused department staff to “change its tune.” Officers have apparently taken the small step of actually cooperating with the attorney representing Le Moullac’s family, Micha Star Liberty. Nevius said Suhr “responded quickly” when questioned via text message about SFPD’s delayed delivery of the traffic collision report:

“Normally we do not release accident reports that result in death,” Suhr replied. “That said, we’re working on getting a copy of the report to the family.”

Liberty said she had been told to expect an e-mail copy of the report that afternoon.

Up until this week, Liberty had been “treated with real hostility, which was very confusing to me,” she told Nevius. “I was denied the report, even the face page.”

According to Nevius, Liberty read sections of the vehicle code to police officials to impress upon them that they are legally bound to release crash information to the victim’s family. She told Nevius that the change in tone is “just a knee-jerk reaction. Today, everyone I called, called me back. And I was given an apology for what was called the investigator’s ‘bedside manner.'”

Meanwhile, the department has still yet to acknowledge the apparent failure of SFPD investigators to look for surveillance footage at any of the five businesses at the intersection canvassed by SF Bicycle Coalition staffer Marc Caswell, who found video of the crash right before it would have been erased.

The video, which the SFBC says took Caswell 10 to 15 minutes to locate, “reveals to me that she was a true victim with respect to this collision and did nothing wrong,” Liberty told KQED reporter Bryan Goebel (the founding editor of Streetsblog SF). Similarly, Liberty told Nevius the video provides strong evidence for the prosecution of the driver in Le Moullac’s death: “I can’t imagine how anyone would decline to file charges based on the video.”

Although SFPD indicated early on that the truck driver would likely face no charges, the department now says the investigation will be forwarded to District Attorney George Gascón’s office, “who will decide whether formal charges will be filed against the truck driver,” according to Goebel.

SFPD spokesperson Albie Esparza told Goebel that “he understands the ‘perception’ and ‘concern’ from bike advocates,” but made no comment on why investigators failed to find the video:

“I don’t know the information that was available to the investigators. We do certainly ask for the public’s help and assistance,” said Esparza. “If this piece of evidence was not retrieved, it is now. We have it in our possession and we’re grateful for the people who came forward and provided us with that information, which we’re going to take a look at and incorporate into our investigation.”

SFPD officials also remain tight-lipped about the shocking behavior of Sergreant Ernst at the SFBC rally last week on Folsom and Sixth Streets, where Le Moullac died. Southern Station Captain Michael Redmond told Streetsblog after the incident that he can’t comment on personnel matters.

Nevius reported a similar response at the time, though “SFPD brass … privately confirmed that not only was he acting on his own, they considered his actions an embarrassment.”

At some point, Chief Suhr and other officials at the police department will have to acknowledge the blame-the-victim bias entrenched among many officers when it comes to people who are killed while walking or biking on San Francisco streets. As the SFBC’s Kristin Smith told Goebel, “What’s really distressing right now is that this might not be an isolated incident.”

“Even if the truck driver performed an illegal maneuver,” Wigg Party co-founder Morgan Fitzgibbons wrote yesterday, “far bigger crimes have been revealed”:

Of course this incident calls into question how many other “investigations” into bicyclist and pedestrian deaths have been criminally botched by those who have sworn to “protect and serve” us…

Make no mistake about it — the primary reason the loss of Amelie Le Moullac’s life was not worthy of the basic human decency that is a proper investigation is because at the time of her death she happened to be riding a bicycle.

  • dat

    This is cause to revisit past “investigations” of motor vehicle on bicycle violence.

  • dat

    This is cause to revisit past “investigations” of motor vehicle on bicycle violence.

  • Brian K.

    I am wondering if the SFPD has bothered to subpoena the cell phone records of the driver who killed Amelie. It would be revealing to know whether or if he was texting or talking on the phone when he killed her.

  • Tri

    Not only SFPD is sloppy at best, they are embarrassingly fat as hell. It’s no wonder they just probably skipped the immediate investigation and went right into lunch/brunch…There’s no way can I can count on them to chase after criminals on foot especially in an urban environment such as SF.

  • Logan H.

    That would involve, you know, actual *work* on their part. The SFPD cares about 3 things: their pay; their pensions; and protecting the politicians. They absolutely do not care about the citizenry, as is obvious not only from the so-called “investigation”, but also SGT Ernst’s behaviour.

  • Justice

    “Normally we do not release accident reports that result in death,” Suhr replied.

    Liberty says she found specific references in the vehicle code – which she says she read to SFPD officials – making it “crystal clear that the information must be released to victims, representatives and insurance.”

    ERGO: The SFPD normally violates the law.

  • Mario Tanev

    One issue is that a lot (most?) of our public employees don’t even live in our city. They are here just for their day job, they don’t know the city that well (suburban mentality), and what happens after their job is over may not concern them.

    A lot of people underestimate the cost of providing quality services. A lot of people think Muni drivers are overpaid, but the truth is that relative to the city’s wealth and demand, they are underpaid since they can’t afford to live here. We get what we pay for.

  • Tammy Jones

    Agree with everything except the notion that city employees don’t live here because they can’t afford to. Our best paid employees (SFPD) could afford to live here if they wanted to, especially the younger ones without families, but it’s simply not the place many of them would choose to live. That goes for many people in other departments as well, including people in fields who you’d think would be more pro-urban.

  • gneiss

    In the case of Mr. Bucchere the police were all too happy to release incriminating evidence and gleefully talk about prejudicial witness testimony (he blew through three red lights!) to reporters that would have swayed a jury if one had been chosen.

    Meanwhile after interviewing the “professional” driver who ran over Ms. Le Moullac and taking a bunch of measurements on the pavement they concluded this crash was just another tragic accident. Why bother tracking down video evidence when the driver (whose name we don’t even know yet) could give them a perfectly credible story the investigators could sympathize with?

    The police who conduct the traffic investigations really need to watch how cyclists ride in the city. Not ticket them, just watch. Most people are cautious, moving through intersections with great care. If they run lights (and for the record I do not), it’s typically to get ahead of the car traffic to have a little breathing room. The suggestion that cyclists deliberately set up to get right hooked, particularly by large trucks should be in no uncertain terms quashed. The causes are very clearly completely misunderstood by police.

  • Mario Tanev

    If a requirement is placed that all sfpd employees must be sf residents, the jobs either won’t be filled or will require higher salaries because the supply of candidates will diminish greatly and sf candidates will want more money. That must mean we can currently not afford to pay San Franciscans, otherwise we wouldn’t be having budget crises.

  • Anonymous

    This is not exactly CSI type stuff. “Check the video cameras around the intersection and check the driver’s cellphone record”, something that one would think is patently obvious and standard procedure for any wreck, let alone a fatality. The only explanations are bias and sloth.

    The complaints coming from “us” during the Bucchere case have come home to roost due to this tragic incident and the SFPD’s bias. That the same level of investigation is not being applied in a car on cyclist case. No matter how often we patiently explained that an investigation into Bucchere’s conduct should be expected, but that such an investigation should apply universally, we were told we were “defending” Bucchere and “apologists”. But the exact case that we have been making has been made crystal clear here.

    Not only did the police doggedly pursue the Bucchere case, they leaked his identity and his email from the morning of the incident to the media outside of regular procedure.. The email contained no real evidence as to his guilt or innocence, but boy would it sure inflame a jury.

    The police in the Amelie case have been openly hostile to the victim’s family. Why do they act appropriate with the Hui’s, but not the Le Moullacs?

    None of this is news to anyone who pays attention. The only thing special about this case is that there was easily obtainable evidence to showcase the SFPD’s misconduct. Wonder if there were any cameras on Yegge or Cena.

  • Sean Rea

    Just this morning I witnessed three cyclists cross an intersection on the right-hand side of a semi truck that was making a right-hand turn. For the record the semi was in the turning lane before the cyclists. Fortunately the driver saw them, and waited.

    I have no reason to believe the most recent tragedy was the fault of the cyclist, but I mention it only to illustrate that it does frequently occur.

  • gneiss

    Sean, if the cyclists had room to move to the right of the truck, then it was not, as you say “in the turning lane”. Watch Stanley Roberts piece on right hooks to see how prevalent the issue with vehicles not moving close enough to the curb to block traffic. It is perfectly proper (and legally required) then for the truck driver to wait until the cyclists cleared the intersection before executing their turn as he was in actuality crossing a lane of traffic.

  • als

    Why can’t we focus on getting SFPD out of patrol cars, onto bikes and foot so thier point of view might change in the long run. No finger pointing, just a change away from a car culture police department. Step up supervisors and Mayor Lee.

  • Mark Dreger

    Portland cops I’ve heard rotate around for bike duty. Probably helps with those out-of-control heath expenses too..

  • Richard Mlynarik

    “gneiss”, even if there’s room for a cyclist to ride, ease through, or squeeze through to the right of a truck — and for some riders I see that means a foot of roadway or less — that doesn’t mean that this is a remotely prudent thing to do.

    I am in no way blaming the victim, no more than Sean Rea was. I am in no way justifying the often recklessly careless and unprofessional behaviour of motorists, including many professional drivers. (I could easily have been creamed earlier today by a heavy construction truck with a trailer that made an unsignalled right turn from Market onto 16th while passing me at speed.) But to claim that “room to move to the right of the truck” somehow implies that all is dandy is insanely wrong. Run away! It’s a trap!!!

  • Sean Rea

    You most definitely do not have the legal right to pull up to the right of a semi truck (who arrived before you) in a turning/bike combo lane and proceed straight through the intersection when it is attempting a turn.

    Note I am NOT talking about the situation where there is a normal lane, followed by a solid line, followed by a bike lane.

    And quite honestly we can debate the legal particulars all we want, but the fact is that the number of trucks I making unsignaled turns gives me all I need to think twice about trying to go around them.

  • Don Marshall

    Bingo! That’s the majority of SFPD’s mentality. Give easy citations such as people bicycling on the sidewalk, avoid paperwork, avoid real work, and have as many coffee doughnut breaks as possible. That’s the majority of them and that’s the truth.

  • Anonymous

    We don’t have a budget crises. We have a crises of priorities, but didn’t the budget for both CA and SF go ok this year? Just because it’s hard to finalize a budget, doesn’t mean it’s a crises.

  • Anonymous

    The pushing from the bike coalition, media, and public (and especially obtaining the footage of the collision) have all led to this case actually being forwarded to the DA’s office. Let’s see if Gascón is as eager to pursue charges with this case as he’s said he would be. It’s time to hold all road users accountable.

  • Mario Tanev

    When Muni is falling in disrepair and police don’t follow basic procedure by saying they are short on resources, it’s a crisis. A family earning minimum wage can make a budget and stick to it, but that doesn’t mean the children won’t be malnourished, it doesn’t mean it’s not a crisis.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not saying there are no crises, but I don’t think it’s useful to frame this as a budget crises. San Francisco is an incredibly wealthy city, especially when compared to just about anywhere else. We have the funds and ability to have a great transit system and wonderful bike network and many other great things, but we haven’t done it. That’s not a budget issue though.

  • david vartanoff

    IINM, we have a state constitutional prohibition against such a requirement–a huge mistake IMHO.

  • Richard

    I’m a bicyclist and my sympathies definitely lie with other cyclists. That said, there are a TON of bicyclists who do not obey traffic laws and put themselves in danger as a result. If a truck arrives first and is turning right, bicyclists must wait behind the truck until the turn is completed.

    Now, that doesn’t appear to be the case with this death. From what I understand, the truck cut the cyclist off here, killing her. It’s terrible that SFPD decided to jump to the conclusion that the cyclist was at fault without doing even a minimum of investigation. Hopefully, the video evidence will make the case more clear.

  • Jd

    If a big rig moves into the bike lane to make a right turn its back wheels will end up on the curb due to the angle it must take. A big rig moves away from the curb before making a right turn, which can be confusing to a cyclist trying to pass. On a separate note, I drive for a living and am overwhelmingly frustrated by cyclists. I find their behavior to be the most dangerous and egregious of anyone on the road. It’s your life and your safety, take some ownership instead of expecting everyone to get out of YOUR way.

  • Logan H.

    Please think before you write. The median income of SF is $45K. The MUNI drivers _start_ with a base pay of $60K; plus they add overtime. Add to this the generous pensions and other benefits, and MUNI drivers are waaay overpaid.

    Consider this: in every coffee shop and store in the City, the employees are making below $40K. And yet I get so much better service there, compared to MUNI’s service. Obviously, pay isn’t a factor in providing better service. In fact, research has shown that the more you pay people, the less they want to do lower-end work.

  • LUVDOGHNUTS

    I was a witness to a brutal crash a few weeks ago on North Point in SF. The police were very thorough and took all the necessary information. I do not think the SFPD purposely hates cyclists. I think sometimes things get overlooked as they do with ALL of our jobs. Give the guys in blue a break.

  • Anonymous

    Um, according to the city’s website (just google “san francisco transit operator”), Muni drivers start at below $40K too. And if you seriously think that driving a bus in this town is comparable to working in a coffee shop, you have an empathy problem.

  • Mario Tanev

    There is no point comparing different types of jobs. It’s all about demand and supply for very specific jobs. It turns out supply for a stressful job is not as great as supply for less-stressful jobs. And it’s not about paying workers more for the sake of it. I am saying that if we instituted a requirement for city workers to be city residents, we will end up having to pay them more or be unable to fill positions. Some say we’re a rich city, but we’re not willing to pay for things we need. Comments like yours showcase the pettiness and stinginess that bites us in our collective ass at the end, one way or another.

  • Sean Rea

    Can’t tell if trolling or serious.

    I will not give them a break. It has now been established that the SFPD lied when it claimed to do basic investigative research. Research so basic that a ten minute walk to the surrounding businesses turned up new video evidence. Evidence that would have been lost forever as it is deleted on a weekly basis.

    Is this behavior typical, or an outlier? We can’t really tell. Neither is it a cyclist vs. police debate. The police are well-compensated (Sgt. Ernst makes >$135k) a year. If asking a couple of businesses for surveillance tapes is too tough for the poor saps in blue then we should relieve them of their burden and replace them with someone who actually gives a damn about protecting the public.

    Anyone who has been a victim and told it was an accident or that there wasn’t evidence now has reason to doubt the quality of the policework.

  • Anonymous

    “Give the guys in blue a break.”

    Yes, because it’s so tough having to perform a thorough investigation … as opposed to being a pedestrian or cyclist who is maimed or killed by a car. This is equivalent to expressing sympathy for all the “trauma” a driver must be going through after screwing up and killing a pedestrian or cyclist in an “accident”. The cops will be just fine. Who will not, however, is the hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians killed and maimed in SF every year.

    “I do not think the SFPD purposely hates cyclists.”

    This isn’t about “hate” but about bias. Time and time again, contrary to your opinion, SFPD has expressed incredible bias against all forms of transit but those taken by motor vehicle. Search Streetsblog for dozens of examples.

  • Wanderer

    It’s too bad how quickly comment fields divide into polarized camps, even if this board definitely tilts one way. In this instance, the debating point seems to be whether bicyclists are always in the right on the streets.
    They’re not.
    It’s irrelevant.
    People in San Francisco deserve quality police work (judged by reasonable, not utopian, standards). It doesn’t matter whether they’re on a bike, whether they’re walking, or whether they’re hit by a bike.

  • Albert

    Brian, surely you meant to ask why SFPD are not issuing subpoenas for both the driver’s cell phone AND the cyclist’s cell phone? Or not, perhaps?

  • Albert

    Mario, why do you assume that just because someone does not live in SF, that “they don’t know the city that well”?.

    Since they have to answer emergency calls, I’d imagine they know the city a lot better than you do.

  • Albert

    gneiss, how many times does it have to be explained to you that a long vehicle has a wide turning radius and therefore cannot move to the right before making a turn?

    In fact, it has to move to the left. Cyclists should understand this as a matter of life and death.

  • Brian K.

    I don’t know if they have or they haven’t. I am hoping they have, but if they didn’t get the surveillance video, then I suspect that they haven’t gotten the cell phone records.

    It’s a travesty of justice to not do a comprehensive investigation. Until that is complete, I think everyone needs to hold off on making conclusions.

  • Mario Tanev

    Police get a fairly skewed view of the city when answering emergency calls. Also being in a car all the time gives a skewed view of the city. Yes, they may know the address of a certain landmark (Dolores Park) or event, but they may not know its cultural significance and they have not experienced it in a capacity other than enforcing the law.

    And this is what I am arguing about. That our public servants should be familiar not just with the grit, but also with the joy, so that they can work to enhance the joy, rather than just suppress the grit.

  • gneiss

    Albert – if drivers of vehicles with wide turning radii cannot safely navigate city streets without killing people then they have no business attempting to navigate in the city. And while I am well aware of that fact it is far from prudent to set up between a right turning truck that is not against the curb, it is also incumbent on the truck driver to check their mirrors and drive as slowly as possible before executing a turn where they cannot be as close to curb as possible. A bike lane that goes through an intersection is still a bike lane regardless of the dashing of the line. Here is the relevent section of the CVC:

    21717. Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to
    cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a
    turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane
    prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section
    22100 [general turning regulations].

    To say that cyclists need to ‘watch out for trucks’ is ignoring the very real duty of care that truck drivers (and all drivers for that matter) have when they make right turns in front of cyclists. I would argue that most right hook incidents are largely caused by drivers who have already passed cyclists a few seconds earlier, and do not set up into the correct lane position. If the drivers had only slowed behind the cyclists, merged into the bike lane, then executed their turn they would not have caused the situation in the first place.

  • UPYOURZ_JDX

    You’re clearly biased about the police officers intentions and actions. You should really all just focus your message board hate and do something constructive. Attend a city meeting and stop passing judgement on things you get second hand information about.

    Were you there? Did you see the video? Did you talk to the Sgt?

    I ride bikes every damn day here and I would be safe to estimate that I see 80% of cyclist break the traffic laws. CONSTANTLY.

    The SGT had a point. GO AROUND CARS TURNING RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. YOU WON’T GET KILLED THAT WAY. Was he hostile? Not in my opinion. He was a cop.

  • SEANLIKSMYNIZUTZ

    Were you a victim? Because you sure sound like one.

  • KGBIKEGUY

    2 things I do here in SF is ride bikes and try to live while riding bikes.

    Seriously people follow the traffic rules. Stop at light/signs and realize that your bike does not have a force field. Ride defensively and as the Sgt. pointed out….GO AROUND CARS AND TRUCKS if you have to. It’s your right.

    SFPD cover up? I don’t think it goes that deep. If the accident was a fatal car crash Im sure they would not run around like it’s CSI and collect the ATM videos and grab fiber samples of the coffee cups in the gutter. So why should they be expected to do the same for a bike?

    Has anyone bothered to research the current police procedures involving fatalities and car accidents?

    Im sorry the girl lost her life and I pray for her family. But, you are making villains here out of people who might save your life someday.

  • Anonymous

    There’s no making of villains going on, but the exposing of those who would write your being killed in a traffic collision off as your own fault (whether or not it is) and giving your family the run around as they seek answers. Any villainy was already there. Why should the people not expect better? Why should they not demand better? Should they take what they’re given and like it or lump it?

    I for one would love to see the sarge give multiple hands-on examples of merging into motor vehicle traffic that may or may not know he even exists. Daily, of course.

  • Don Marshall

    I think the experienced cyclist obeys the traffic laws only to a certain point because he or she knows that those traffic lights are not going to protect him or her. Motorists will run red lights, cab drivers will suddenly turn right or pull over in front of you, trucks will suddenly turn right, etc.

    I am not an advanced cyclist and I do follow the traffic rules. However, I have observed experienced cyclists/messengers run red lights and stop signs but I understand completely where they are coming from. These guys are constantly alert and very quick and ready to improvise which is I think is the key to staying alive while cycling in the busy city streets. Motorists and pedestrians will hate them and think they are out of control, but ironically these guys, the improvisers who must stay alert in order to be good at improvising, has a better chance of survival than someone relying on a design that is only safe if every motorist is patient, not in a hurry, and not speeding, etc. But we know half of the motorist out there are spoiled and impatient so they will be speeding, run red lights, run stop signs, etc.

    The cyclist, therefore, must always improvise and improvising requires constant readiness and alertness. You see, you ride and do whatever you have to do to be safe–forget what people think. The key is to stay alive and ride safely. Ride in the sidewalk if you have to.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Legal System Fails Again: No Charges for Trucker Who Killed Amelie

|
Note: Amelie Le Moullac’s mother, Jessie Jewitt, and other Bay Area musicians will perform at a benefit concert on Friday in Palo Alto at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds will go to Amélie’s Angels, “a fund dedicated to bringing the gifts of education, food, clothing, toys, and most importantly love and laughter, to the children of Haiti.” The truck […]