By Henry K. Lee 6/9/12
An attorney known for bringing misconduct cases against police has been hired by the family of a 15-year-old boy shot to death by a South San Francisco police officer after allegedly pulling a gun during a chase.
John Burris said he has begun an investigation “to evaluate whether there was excessive force” in the shooting Tuesday night of Derrick Gaines of San Bruno.
The teenager ran from an officer who was trying to talk to him and a companion about unspecified “suspicious behavior” outside an Arco gas station about 9 p.m. Tuesday, police said.
The officer, whose name has not been released, shot Gaines after the boy pulled a gun, police said. Police officials have not said whether he pointed the gun at the officer or whether it was loaded.
Gaines’ friends say that while the teen may have been armed, he would never have pointed a gun at an officer.
Family and friends of the teen held a rally Thursday evening at the gas station at 2300 Westborough Blvd., decrying the shooting. Among those at the rally was Burris, who frequently sues police departments after fatal officer-involved shootings.
“My initial objective is to get the facts, find out what happened and to determine from those facts whether or not the young man’s civil rights were violated,” Burris said in an interview Friday.
“I’m interviewing people, reviewing the scene, looking to see what happened, get some background information about the family and the kid. It’s basic investigative work to evaluate whether there was excessive force.”
Burris said the fact that a 15-year-old boy was shot dead “is pretty shocking, and you want to make sure if it was lawful or not.”
Police have said the boy ran away from the officer. The attorney said the officer who chased Gaines had tripped the boy before the shooting.
Burris said one aspect of his investigation will be whether Gaines’ death was the result of a “panic shooting” in which the officer overreacted to a “perceived threat.”
Although the shooting is still under investigation by South San Francisco police, Capt. Mike Brosnan said Wednesday that the officer had had no choice but to defend himself.
Gaines’ shooting was the tragic result of actions that were “outside of our doing,” Brosnan said.
Joseph Lucia, an attorney for the officer, declined to comment.