San Diego, CA – Protesters are demanding the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) fire a veteran officer who shot and wounded a knife-wielding homeless man last month (video below).
The incident began at approximately 7:08 p.m. on Feb 25, when a witness flagged down SDPD Officer Kelly Besker and told him a man down the street was waving a knife and threatening pedestrians, the SDPD said in the bodycam video release.
The witness said people were having to walk out into the roadway to get around the knife-wielding man, Officer Besker explained over the radio, the video showed.
The officer made his way to the southeast corner of G Street and Third Avenue, where he encountered 69-year-old Stephen Wilson eating a bowl of food while pacing around the trash-strewn street corner.
Officer Besker greeted Wilson and asked him everything was ok, but the suspect initially ignored him and kicked garbage into the road, the video showed.
“I got some reports of you acting a little strange over here in possession of a knife,” the officer explained.
“I am strange,” Wilson confirmed. “I don’t have a knife.”
Officer Besker asked the suspect to set his food down for a moment, but he refused, the video showed.
The officer asked Wilson if he had a knife in any of his property.
“Maybe in the cart,” he yelled. “I don’t know!”
Officer Besker asked the suspect to stay away from the shopping cart parked nearby and Wilson complied and continued eating his food, the video showed.
Wilson denied having a knife yet again, so the officer explained to him what he’d been told.
“Somebody said you were waving a knife around, acting crazy over here,” Officer Besker said.
Wilson explained that a motorist had driven by and ran into his cart, scattering his belongings all over the street corner.
As the officer radioed that the suspect didn’t appear to be armed, Wilson told him to “back off” and continued eating, the video showed.
He again asked Wilson to put down his food, and assured him he wasn’t going to take it away from him.
“Get away from me,” the suspect said, backing towards the shopping cart.
Wilson briefly turned to the side as another officer arrived at the scene, and Officer Besker was able to see a large butcher knife protruding from the suspect’s back pocket, the video showed.
“Hey – you got a knife in your back pocket,” Officer Besker said as Wilson was just feet away from another officer. “Do not grab that knife!”
Shots rang out just as Wilson appeared to throw an object down onto the ground, the video showed.
“Mr. Wilson grabbed the knife during the same moment that the officer said ‘do not grab that knife,’” the SDPD said in the video release. “In a fluid motion, Mr. Wilson retrieved the knife from his back pocket, brought it forward and released it to fall to the ground.”
“The sound of the first gunshot can be heard approximately 1/3rd of a second after Mr. Wilson releases his grip on the knife,” the department noted.
The suspect fell to the ground behind the shopping cart.
“What was that – a Taser gun?” he asked. “I didn’t pull it on you!”
Officer Besker radioed for an ambulance and quickly spotted the knife Wilson had dropped on the ground at the time of the shooting, the video showed.
“Why did you shoot me?” Wilson asked Officer Besker as they were tending to his wounds.
“Because I told you not to grab the knife out of your back pocket,” the officer calmly responded.
“I was givin’ it to you,” Wilson said, trailing off into expletives.
“I told you not to grab it,” Officer Besker explained.
“I didn’t hear you,” Wilson claimed. “I’m deaf, mother f—ker.”
Wilson was transported to a local hospital, where he underwent surgery, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
He was listed in stable condition later that night.
The department’s Homicide Unit’s investigation into the officer-involved shooting is ongoing, as per protocol for all officer-involved shootings, whether they are fatal or not.
The investigative findings will be forwarded to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether or not Officer Besker “bears any criminal liability,” the SDPD said.
An internal affairs investigation is also underway, and the Shooting Review Board will evaluate the tactics the officers used during the incident.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will monitor the investigation, and the Commission on Police Practices will review the incident and provide recommendations as warranted, the SDPD said.
Officer Besker has served the SDPD for the past 26 years, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The veteran officer was previously cleared of wrongdoing following a 2009 officer-involved shooting that took place at a downtown bus-maintenance depot.
In that incident, a Metropolitan Transit System mechanic fatally shot two of his coworkers, then pointed a revolver at police, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The gunman was fatally shot by the officers.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) San Diego Chapter President Francine Maxwell said the shooting involving Wilson is “very troubling and concerning,” KGTV reported.
“He told you that he was hungry, so where was the urgency?” Maxwell asked. “Where was the threat? Why didn’t we step back and call the PERT team? Why didn’t we call the K9 unit?”
Homelessness advocate Michael McConnell said Officer Besker “should have just backed off a little bit and recognized what the situation was,” according to KGTV.
McConnell claimed the “very disturbing” bodycam footage proved Wilson was not a threat and that Officer Besker simply “shot someone who obviously needed help,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“This officer was part of the Neighborhood Policing Division — he should be very familiar with homelessness,” he said. “He should understand the importance of food and belongings.”
Critics took to Twitter to denounce how Officer Besker handled the situation, with some claiming he harassed and shot an “unhoused man [who was] trying to eat peacefully outside.”
Others demanded the veteran officer be fired immediately, while some claimed the use of deadly force against Wilson proved law enforcement “is not an institution that can be reformed.”
Watch the incident unfold in the video below. Warning – Graphic Content and Obscene Language:
Body cam footage shows @SanDiegoPD officer non-fatal shooting of homeless man that had a knife in his back pocket. Three officers on-site. Man never made threatening move. Justified? Will DA investigate? pic.twitter.com/QryF0ooAzJ
— La Prensa San Diego (@LaPrensaSD) March 4, 2021