Struggle Against Police Murder
in San Francisco

People Demand Justice in Mark Garcia Case

Revolutionary Worker #967, July 26, 1998

"The Chief is saying that Mark Garcia's life is worth less than the policeman's job. That's what they're saying."

Daniel Garcia, brother of Mark Garcia

"What the Garcia family said 48 hours after Mark Garcia was killed the OCC has substantiated. The time now for waiting is over."

Bruce Kapsack, Garcia family attorney

There have been important new developments in the Mark Garcia case. On June 30, the San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC), an official city body that operates under the Police Commission found that seven cops "acted improperly" in the April 6, 1996 incident that led to Mark's death. The OCC found that the police did not follow their own procedures on the use of pepper spray in arresting Mark, that they put Mark in a paddy wagon face down even though that position is known to cause death in people that have been pepper-sprayed. The OCC also found that one officer used unnecessary force by pushing his foot into Mark's back and standing on him for seven minutes. The OCC charged the Lieutenant in charge of the scene with neglect of duty.

The report by the OCC comes after two years of determined struggle by the Garcia family and others demanding justice. This April, on the second anniversary of Mark's death, several hundred people attended a memorial mass for Mark and held a march to the site where Mark was killed. There was a protest and picket at the Mission police station. Labor unions have taken a stand against the murder of Mark Garcia. Mark's family has spoken out at community forums exposing the use of pepper spray and its role in Mark's death. And they were active in the 1996 and 1997 October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality.

Despite the report by the OCC, all of the seven officers involved in Mark's death remain on active duty. None have been disciplined or reprimanded in any way for killing Mark. Lt. Suhr, who supervised the police murder of Mark Garcia, has been promoted to Captain and is now in charge of the entire Mission District police station. D. J. Garcia, Mark's nephew, pointed out, "Officer Suhr is standing right now in that station as a Captain. He got promoted after my uncle was killed. What that tells me is that they are congratulating him for killing my uncle."

The OCC report has not been released to the public. But the officers involved in Mark's death, as well as Mark's family, have been given copies of the report. The police now have the opportunity to look it over and can dispute the findings and request a review by the OCC.

It is significant that the OCC was forced to issue a report which exposes how Mark Garcia was murdered. But OCC recommendations don't mean that the police have to do anything about them. After the report is finalized by the OCC, it is turned over to the police department which decides whether any action should be taken. The San Francisco Police Chief has said he will refer the report to the Management and Control Division (MCD)--the SFPD's own internal affairs unit--for a recommendation. The Chief can accept the charges and impose disciplinary action--or he can just reject the charges. If he accepts the charges he can recommend a punishment of less than 10 days suspension or refer the case to the police commission for punishment greater than 10 days. If the police department does not accept the OCC's charges then the OCC could still bring disciplinary charges against the officers but this is very unusual.

Daniel Garcia, Mark's brother, is particularly angry that the MCD, which has already investigated and covered up for Mark's murder, will be the ones who will recommend whether the officers are punished. "They already investigated my brother's death and they whitewashed and said that it was justifiable homicide. What are they going to say now?... All this shit that happened to Mark was told for two years straight by the family. We filed these charges 15 months ago. The MCD investigated it and said that it was justified. You know it's going to be another whitewash but how are they going to whitewash it now that one of the official offices of the city, the OCC, has said that they are responsible for my brother's death?"

Anatomy of a Murder

The facts of the Mark Garcia case paint a clear picture of police murder:

  • Mark Garcia, age 41, was a Teamster and a recovering drug addict who also counseled and helped others in recovery. On April 6, 1996 he had been robbed and was wandering along Cesar Chavez Blvd. in the San Francisco Mission District, yelling, "Help me, help me." He had committed no crime.
  • When the police arrived on the scene they attempted to grab Mark. When he walked away they grabbed him by the testicles and repeatedly pepper-sprayed him. Pepper spray has been involved in over 60 deaths of people in police custody nationwide. The manufacturers of pepper spray recommend a total exposure of no more than two half-second bursts. Mark was pepper-sprayed at least four or five times directly in the face.
  • A total of seven officers eventually arrived on the scene. Mark was handcuffed, hog-tied, and thrown face down on the hot asphalt. A cop stood on Mark's back for over five minutes.
  • The police blatantly violated their own procedures for treating someone after they have been pepper-sprayed. Department General Order 5.01 states that the officer must flush the person's eyes with water as soon as possible. Although there was water at the gas station where Mark lay on the ground, and several of the police washed the pepper spray out of their own eyes, none of them bothered to wash Mark's eyes and face. Department General Order 5.01 also states that "Persons who have been sprayed with Mace or O.C. [pepper spray] must be transported in an upright position by two officers. The passenger officer shall closely monitor the subject for any signs of distress." According to depositions by the police Mark was not transported in an upright position. He was placed on his side in the back of a paddy wagon and he rolled onto his face immediately. He was not monitored.

    Many of the SFPD pepper-spray procedures were put into effect in response to outrage at the police murder of Aaron Williams in 1995. Aaron Williams, like Mark Garcia, died after being beaten, pepper-sprayed and hog-tied by the police. William Bowser, Aaron Williams' uncle, is angry at how the police ignored the rules put in place after Aaron's murder. "These things were put into place after the murder of Aaron. They worked 6, 7, 8 months, a year to figure out how they're going to keep people from dying--you weren't going to do this, you weren't going to do that. But somebody decided to do whatever he feels like doing."

  • Police claim that they called an ambulance for Mark but that it was diverted. However, according to the Garcia family's attorney, a review of police department dispatch transcripts show that an ambulance was never ordered for Garcia--a paddy wagon was ordered by Lt. Suhr before an ambulance, which was not called for Mark but for one of the police who was not seriously injured. Although the hospital is just a three-minute ride from the site where Mark was beaten, the ride took 10 minutes. The officer driving the paddy wagon decided to take a long detour while Mark lay dying in the back.
  • Mark suffered a fatal heart attack on the way to the hospital. The coroner ruled that pepper spray did not cause Mark's heart attack. However, Doctors Hazel and John Cooleridge, who have done extensive research on pepper spray's active ingredient, capsaicin, have found that it can indeed stop your heart. At a recent press conference Doctor Hazel Cooleridge said that capsaicin "is one of the most powerful pain-inducing agents that we know...not only does it burn the skin, it also affects the nerve supply in the heart, lungs and airways. Our research has showed that exposure to capsaicin can stop a heart from beating for up to 10 seconds." Doctor John Cooleridge added that "capsaicin causes a dramatic fall in heart rate and a drop in arterial pressure, which is potentially fatal."
  • "We are Mark's Voice"

    "When we go up in that room I don't intend to ask them to do anything. I intend to tell them to do something. What my family intends to tell them is that we want each and every officer involved in my uncle's death behind bars just like we would be if we did a crime."

    D. J. Garcia, Mark's nephew,
    outside the Police Commission

    On July 8, over 200 people crowded into a meeting of the San Francisco Police Commission to demand justice for Mark Garcia. The meeting drew together youth, families of other victims of police murder, people from groups opposing police brutality--the October 22 Coalition, PoliceWatch, Third Eye Movement, Copwatch--PUEBLO, rank-and-file labor union members, and others.

    People came to the Police Commission determined to get justice for Mark. People were angry that two years have gone by since Mark's death without any punishment for the police involved. And they were angry that even after the OCC has brought charges against the seven officers they all remain on active duty, including in positions of leadership within the SFPD.

    At the start of the public comment part of the meeting dozens of people lined up at two mikes ready to speak truth to power. One of the first speakers called for a moment of silence in Mark's memory. While the cops and commissioners sat stone-faced, 200 people stood silently remembering Mark. "It's a terrible ordeal to deal with the death of a loved one, but it hurts even more when nothing is done about it," Ron Garcia, one of Mark's brothers, told the Police Commission. "My brother's daughter, aged 12, carries Mark's two-year-old pillow as a security blanket. His other daughter, age 17, has a phobia about not wanting to be around police officers."

    Daniel Garcia told the Commission: "I have pain because Chief Lau allows these seven officers to go free to be our judge, our jury, and our executioner. I have pain because the district attorney's office refuses to file charges against the ones who are responsible for my brother's death. I want all of you to remember that this pain will never stop for me and my family but we can prevent it from happening to your friends and family." Holding up a sign from Mark's funeral he continued, "This is what I have left of my brother. How many of these have to fly before you put the policies that you all made into effect."

    D'Andre of the October 22 Coalition read a statement from Iris Baez to the Garcia family and other families in the Bay Area who have had a loved one murdered by the police. In 1994, Iris Baez's son, Anthony Baez, was choked to death by NYPD cop Francis Livoti. And the Baez family recently won a victory when Livoti was found guilty in a federal civil rights trial in New York and is now facing a possible 10-year sentence.

    Before reading the statement, D'Andre asked for those who had a family member killed by the police to stand. Many people stood, giving a moving reminder of the epidemic of police murder in our communities. Those standing included relatives of: Luke and Raphael Grinnage who were shot and killed by the Oakland police; Baraka Hull, shot by the Oakland police; Jerrold Hall, killed by the BART (rapid transit system) police; Aaron Williams, murdered by the SFPD; Arthur Diaz, killed in San Jose; Michael Nunn who died after being followed and chased by the NYPD; and Sheila Amaya, who was shot by cops in Union City just four months ago. Also standing were families of people killed by police or who died in jail in Sonoma County: Kevin Saunders, Dale Robbins, Damon Lansing, and Drue Harris.

    The statement from Iris Baez said: "I am not there but I am with you in spirit. Your pain is my pain. Our victory is your victory. We are proving that by standing together we can win. God is on our side because he is always on the side of truth. He will bring evil and corruption into the light of day. The struggle is hard but we have to stay strong and God is helping us get strong. My love to the family of Mark Garcia and to all the families. God bless you all. Mark Garcia is dead but we are all now his voice. His family and all of us must bring justice. We are opening the eyes of the community and we will not stop until police stop killing and brutalizing us and our children."

    People directly challenged the police chief and members of the Police Commission to take action based on the OCC report. A Latino youth, speaking Spanish, challenged a Latino member of the Commission, asking whether he had ever met with people in the Mission District about police brutality. An activist with PoliceWatch asked Assistant Police Chief Sanders why he refused to even put the cops that murdered Mark on inactive duty. Sanders said that the Garcia family should be patient saying, "If he is to be disciplined the process will do that. The process works." People at the meeting who had been fighting for two years for justice in Mark's case were getting angrier.

    Police Commission President Pat Norman demanded that the people in the audience "show respect" to the Commission. He wanted people to stop protesting how Mark's murder is being covered up and the police officers involved protected. A young Black woman answered this saying, "We'll come in to your meeting like you come to our hood." At that point Norman declared the meeting adjourned. Many people, including members of Mark Garcia's family and the families of other victims of the police, were left standing in line and denied the chance to address the Commission.

    People left the meeting room chanting, "We'll be back" and "We remember you Mark. We're not going to let you down." A speakout continued on the steps of the Hall of Justice where many of the families of people killed by the police spoke. A young woman with the Third Eye Movement performed a poem that she wrote, titled "I Shot the Sheriff."

    Sending a Message

    The RW talked with Daniel Garcia the day following the Police Commission. He was still boiling with anger at what had happened at the meeting. "Although the OCC report came out sustaining the charges against the police officers, the chief is refusing to acknowledge the findings of the OCC and that proved it last night when they shut down the meeting. I'm very mad. Each time they don't put the police officers on inactive duty it's a spit in the family's face."

    Dan Garcia also told the RW about his family's history in the labor movement and the kind of support that Mark's case has received: "Our family has been in the labor movement for 64 years. Our grandfather helped start the "Bloody Thursday" [when police and national guard opened fire on strikers during a 1934 general strike involving 130,000 workers in SF - RW]. Our father was a Teamster for 40 years. Mark's brothers were Teamsters for 18 years. I've been a Teamster for 15 years. We have the Teamster Joint Counsel 7 backing Mark's case. Local 85 supports Mark's case. The Sign and Display Union 510 supports Mark's case. And I'll be speaking next week with Teamster Local 287. And I spoke at the Bloody Thursday anniversary on July 5. I spoke at the Longshoreman's Union, Local 10 and we are waiting for their decision to support Mark's case.

    "Some places I talk are very conservative. Some people don't want me to call what happened to my brother murder. They think I should say that the police killed my brother. The petition that I pass around says the police murdered him. A lot of people don't like to sign that petition because it says murder. Well, that's what happened--he was murdered. He was not killed; he was murdered."

    Daniel Garcia emphasized the importance of a broad spectrum of people taking up his brother's case. He talked about the difference that it has made that the youth and the families of other victims of the police have been out there. But he also emphasizes the difference it would make if some of the union leaders were to take up Mark's case and come to the demonstrations.

    "I believe in the American way. I believe in democracy," Dan Garcia told the RW. "But every day I'm seeing more and more shit coming down. It's not the way it's supposed to be but it's run that way because our politicians and our officials allow it. The police need to be brought up on criminal charges to send a message to the San Francisco police that you are not our judge, jury and executioner. If that happens it will go all over the country and send a message to every police station that you better watch your step. Money doesn't do it, bro. A lot of people tell me, `hit 'em in the pocket. ` Fuck that, man. How long has this shit been going on? All they've been doing is dishing out money, nobody's been charged. Nobody's been put in jail. That's what's going to send the message."

    This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
    Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
    Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
    (The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)