Against policy, rookie SF cop fired at moving car

Despite having a policy in place that prohibits San Francisco police officers from shooting at moving vehicles, an officer fired his gun twice at a driver who struck a police vehicle during a pursuit earlier this month in The City’s Western Addition neighborhood.

During a town hall meeting Monday night at the Hamilton Recreation Center at 1900 Geary Blvd., just two blocks from where the shooting unfolded, Police Chief Bill Scott and other police officials revealed new details of the shooting.

On May 11 just before 1 a.m., officers on patrol near Geary Boulevard and Steiner Street heard a vehicle alarm. Upon further investigation, the officers saw broken glass on the sidewalk and two people walking away from a parked car with a shattered window.

The officers tried to detain the two people, identified as Hershel Hale, 21, of Antioch and Maurice Jones, 23, of Brentwood.

As Jones was being detained by one officer, Hale ran, running toward Webster and O’Farrell streets with an officer in pursuit, police said.

Once near the intersection, Hale allegedly got into a parked white Hyundai Sonata and started it as the pursuing officer ordered him to stop. Police said Hale drove forward, striking the back of the car parked in front of him.

As Hale exited the parking spot, a second police patrol car arrived with two officers inside. When the patrol car stopped, the officer in the passenger’s side exited. Hale drove toward the stopped police vehicle and struck its right front side, police said.

Hale allegedly drove past the patrol vehicle and toward the officer that had just exited it, but the officer retreated to a safe place.

During this time, the officer who initially pursued Hale on foot fired his gun at least twice toward Hale’s vehicle, as Hale was allegedly driving away. That officer has been identified as Officer William Reininger, police said.

Hale allegedly continued driving toward the intersection of Webster and O’Farrell streets when he struck a police SUV that had just arrived on scene.

Police said Hale again drove away and the officers in the SUV followed him to Civic Center Plaza where Hale’s vehicle jumped the curb and stopped and Hale was taken into custody.

One officer was treated at the scene for an injury, police said.

While no one was struck by the police gunfire, Hale was taken to a hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening.

Hale was arrested on suspicion of burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, evading police, conspiracy and hit-and-run leading to an injury.

Jones was arrested on suspicion of burglary and conspiracy, police said.

Videos of the melee were captured on the body worn cameras of some of the officers at the scene, however, police said Reininger did not have his camera activated.

When asked Monday night whether he was concerned that the officer, who has served just one year on the force, appeared to violate department policies by not activating his body camera and shooting at a moving vehicle, Scott replied:

“The policy is the policy. If there is disciplinary action to be taken, we will take that. But we will do it in the right way, once the investigation is complete. I know it’s really tempting at this stage to say how this is going to go, but it’s really too early to begin to tell.”

Reininger has been placed on paid administrative leave as the investigation continues.

According to Capt. Joseph Engler from the department’s Northern Station, Reininger and the other officer who initially encountered Hale and Jones were on the lookout for car burglars that night:

“What we’ve been facing lately is an epidemic in car boosting, car burglaries, cars getting broken into when people are going to the movies, when people go to dinner, when people are picking up and dropping off their children from school… This is ground zero for car break-ins.”

Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus attended the meeting and said that although Reininger appeared to have violated department policies, the circumstances surrounding those actions still need to be evaluated:

“When we were doing the body cameras, one of the issues we had was why can’t it just come on automatically in some fashion, when they’re running, when there’s some motion… Turning it on is very important, so how do we get that memory in place?”

DeJesus said:

“Policy can’t anticipate every conceivable situation or exceptional circumstance and I think a car trying to mow people down is certainly within that area… All use of force is a case-by-case basis. So even though there is policy, policy allows for exceptional circumstances.”

When asked whether she was concerned about the inability of the police commission to meet because of a lack of a quorum, DeJesus said:

“It is concerning. It’s a small delay but I understand that we will be up and running within a time frame.”

Scott said the police commission’s current status will not affect the investigation into the shooting.