From: ABC 7
By: Dan Noye
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A San Francisco sheriff's deputy has been placed on desk duty after this violent confrontation at the home of an auto-burglary suspect who had missed a court date. The deputy opened fire through the man's fingers and into the dog, killing her.
An argument is raging over what that surveillance video shows: is it excessive force or good police work?
I-Team reporter Dan Noyes obtained that video exclusively.
David Wesser, 33, returned to San Francisco's Community Justice Center this afternoon. His public defender tells us Wesser is accused of taking clothes from an unlocked car in February, and that the charge will be dismissed if he completes the program -- seeing the judge weekly, staying out of trouble, and making progress on his substance abuse issues.
"Mr. Wessler is actually doing pretty well in the court," said Danielle Harris of the San Francisco Public Defender's Office. "He's programming, he is engaged with the court, engaged with the services, all of the staff and the court know him. He missed a court date."
On that day, Aug. 30, Wesser's attorneys tell me they didn't know he was in the hospital, so the judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
The next week, four sheriff's deputies arrived at Wesser's room at the Broadway Hotel on Polk Street with a battering ram and guns drawn. The deputies' attorney defends that response, even for someone like Wesser -- a non-violent offender on a relatively minor property crime.
Harry Stern said, "All training dictates that you approach that situation with extreme caution including being prepared for whatever comes out of that door, whether it's somebody who's armed or whatever."
Stern tells the I-Team, for forty minutes, the deputies could see Wesser through the peephole and a crack in the door, and he wouldn't respond, but that they did hear the dog barking. It takes three blows to knock open the door. Ruby the pit bull emerges. Wesser reaches for her -- a gunshot hits his fingers and plunges into the dog's neck, killing her. The deputies cuff Wesser as his hand bleeds; a doggie stretcher arrives from Animal Care and Control to take Ruby's body away.
"We would like to think that in San Francisco, you don't get shot for failing to appear at a court date," said Harris. "And your companion animal doesn't get killed; that's not the punishment."
"The last thing in the world that these great deputies wanted to do is harm a dog," countered Harry Stern. "And that is 100 percent the felony suspect's fault."
The San Francisco Sheriff's Department has identified the deputies involved: Richard Balmy, Paul Lozada, Julio Molina and Viridiana Ponce. They would not identify which deputy fired the shot.
Dan Noyes: "Why release the four names, but not identify which of them pulled the trigger?"
Nancy Crowley, SF Sheriff's Spokeswoman: "It's under investigation right now."
San Francisco Sheriff Vicky Hennessy refused to be interviewed for this report. Her spokesperson tells me the department immediately called in the SFPD and DA's Office for an independent review of the shooting. She says such an incident is very rare.
"The warrant services unit has been a part of the Sheriff's Department for almost 30 years," said Crowley. "This is the first time we've had an incident where a firearm is discharged to my knowledge."
At court on Friday, David Wesser would not discuss how the shooting has affected him, but his attorneys say it has been a setback to turning his life around.
"He's having a hard time," said Harris. "He's struggling to understand why this happened and you know, whatever difficulty he was having before is now greatly compounded."
His public defender tells us Wesser has met with the judge 30 times since February, as part of the CJC program. He has received no additional charges in connection with the incident at his home two weeks ago. We'll keep you up to date on the investigation into the officer involved shooting.