CORNERSTONE CHURCH — Residents gathered Tuesday evening at a town hall meeting convened by San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr to discuss the facts surrounding the fatal shooting by police of a suicidal man armed with a replica gun outside of a police station in the Mission District Sunday evening.
Suhr said the deceased, Matthew Hoffman, was fatally shot by police after entering a restricted parking lot at the Mission police station armed with a replica gun. Hoffman allegedly pointed the gun at officers, at which point the officers discharged 10 shots, striking Hoffman three times.
While neither the medical examiner’s office nor the police department have confirmed where Hoffman resided prior to his death, Suhr said this evening that he had connections to Connecticut.
According to Suhr, following the officer-involved shooting, San Francisco police received word from the Norwalk Police Department in Connecticut stating that a Norwalk police officer had received several “disturbing” text messages on March 27 from Hoffman, then a resident of Danbury, Connecticut.
Norwalk police said the officer believed Hoffman to be unstable and off his medications. The text messages sent to the officer last year asked what would happen if a person were to point a fake gun at a cop from 6 feet away and what would happen if someone told a cop he was going to shoot the cop after a count of three, according to Norwalk police.
Norwalk police said a firearms check at the time showed that Hoffman had a valid pistol permit as well as a Ruger pistol registered to him.
San Francisco police said that Hoffman reportedly approached two police officers on patrol at 16th and Mission streets on Sunday around 2 p.m., asking questions about what kind of guns San Francisco police officers carry, what kind of ammunition they carry and if the department had been involved in any recent officer-involved shootings, according to police.
Hoffman lingered around the area, but officers did not engage with him and he eventually left, police said. Suhr said that Hoffman came back again to the intersection and spoke with two different officers in a similar manner.
Around 5:20 p.m. on Sunday, Hoffman was seen loitering in the entrance of the Mission District police station parking lot, located at Valencia and 17th streets, according to police. There are numerous signs on the fence outside the police station that identify the area as restricted to police personnel.
Three police sergeants approached Hoffman and asked him to leave the restricted area, according to police. Hoffman acknowledged their request and began to walk away, but then stopped before reaching the parking lot entrance at Valencia Street.
The sergeants walked over to their vehicles and were preparing to leave when they noticed that he had not left and was standing in the middle of the entrance staring at them, according to police. Again, the sergeants approached Hoffman and asked him to leave the restricted area, police said.
According to Suhr, the suspect began to back out of the parking lot, facing the sergeants with his hands in his shirt pockets. The sergeants instructed Hoffman to show his hands but upon exiting the parking lot, he lifted up his shirt, revealing what officers determined to be the butt of a gun.
Police said that as Hoffman drew the weapon from his waistband, the sergeants also drew their service weapons. Two of the sergeants fired 10 shots, striking Hoffman three times, according to Suhr. He said the sergeants both shot five rounds each, striking Hoffman in the upper body, arm and leg.
Hoffman was transported to San Francisco General Hospital, where he underwent surgery but later died, police said. Police discovered later that Hoffman was carrying only an airsoft pistol, which can shoot pellets but not bullets.
The airsoft pistol did not have an orange safety tip indicating it was not a real gun, police said. Suhr said no one else was injured during the shooting, but did not say where the seven stray bullets were located.
On Monday, San Francisco police released a suicide letter apparently written by Hoffman. Police said the investigation into the officer-involved shooting included a search of Hoffman’s phone, which revealed several suicide letters, including one addressed to his father, one to an ex-girlfriend and one entitled “Dear Officer(s).”
That letter is addressed to the officer or officers who were involved in his fatal shooting. He wrote:
“I provoked you. I threatened your life as well as the lives of those around me. You were completely within you legal rights to do what you did.”
The letter went on to say that he felt sad and lonely and that he wanted to end his own life, but didn’t have the courage to do so. In the letter, he encourages the officer or officers to:
“Please, take solace in knowing that the situation was out of your control. You had no other choice.”
San Francisco police said they believe the letter was written in relation to the shooting that occurred on Sunday evening. Suhr said he spoke with Hoffman’s father, who lives in Connecticut, and he agreed to allow the public release of the letter.
He said Hoffman’s father was heartbroken and that the whole situation has been difficult for everyone involved. The two sergeants involved in the shooting were placed on paid administrative leave, as is standard protocol following officer-involved shootings, police said.
A handful of Mission District residents said this evening that they were concerned that police officers used lethal force against Hoffman instead of non-lethal weapons, but Suhr said that officers did not know he was suicidal and that he was in possession of a fake gun prior to the incident.
He said police fired their guns to protect themselves. Suhr said the San Francisco Police Department has over 325 officers trained in crisis intervention and that anyone who is thinking of hurting themselves or anyone else should reach out to police and will receive help.