VIDEO + ANALYSIS: S.F. Man Shot in the Back

Impugning cops before the facts are in seems to now be not only acceptable but essential to the news cycle

By Jim Glennon  |   Jun 28, 2018

Anywhere you look for this incident, whether websites, traditional newspapers or on the TV and Cable news channels, you will find that this incident is tagged with some form of this phrase, “San Francisco cop shoots man in the back.”

After the NBA finals where some California team was crowned champions, I guess, the San Francisco Police Department prepared their officers for revelers over imbibing with drink of the alcohol kind.

A young officer happened upon just such merrymakers. One of them decided to run. During the foot chase, that runner, 28-year-old Oliver Barcenas, gang member and felon, pulled out a modified pistol with an exceptionally long magazine. Upon noticing that gun the officer pulled his sidearm and fired, striking the man in the back and critically wounding him. (On the video you can hear the officer tell other officers that they had to find the gun and it looked like a Tech-9.) Minutes later they did find said gun (see the picture) right where the officer saw it in the hands of the felon.

As of this writing the man is still alive, in the hospital, and charged with possession of a weapon as a felon. The officer is on administrative leave.

That’s all we really know about the facts of the case. Outside of that, we know some other things.

1. People feel emboldened to interfere and obstruct. On the scene, with no real knowledge of what happened, people, many of them apparently partaking in alcoholic drinks themselves pulled out their cell phones, called the officer names, accused him of basically murder, and obstructed his duties. A mob mentality took hold with each motivating the others to resist officer orders. They began shouting profanities and infected each other with bias about what they saw and what they believe. I doubt—and I could be wrong—but I highly doubt it, any of them actually saw what actually occurred.

And I’m 100% certain they didn’t see it from the perspective of the officer.

2. Everyone has opinions, and those opinions are biased. A community meeting was held where many in attendance condemned the officer for an unwarranted use of force, creating the situation, overreacting, being biased, and doing something illegal. What’s so ironic is that none of these people had any idea what actually happened, and so they allowed their prejudices to fill in the gaps.

The video, as you can see here, is shaky, out of focus and jumping as the officer was running at full gallop. But people have been programmed to believe, contrary to overabundance of evidence, that police officers are shooting people for no reason at epidemic proportions. These same people then weigh in on a situation they know almost nothing about.

“They were drinking from an open container, and all of a sudden the police come and everything falls apart,” Joanne Keaney to San Francisco’s police chief at a community meeting. “What does it mean that he had to shoot him to stop him when he didn’t even know what was going on?”

Does Keaney know what’s going on? Does she understand that someone—who, we would find out, has proven himself to be dangerous throughout his past—can swing that gun back towards the officer in less than one half of a second? That he could pull that trigger under stress 8 – 10 times in two seconds and spray the area where dozens of people were standing?

Of course she doesn’t.

According to the San Francisco Examiner: “Theresa Flandrich, who described herself as a mother who raised a child in North Beach, said she was concerned that a bystander could have been struck, but also that the four men were stopped in the first place for having open containers.” She added, “It’s just shocking to me to see this. I would like some reassurance that this is not the usual … Was it their color of skin? Was it their hoodie jackets? What would make you stop this particular group?”

She is prejudiced: Inferring and then implying that the officer, who she knows nothing about, is a racist. (Does she even know the race and ethnicity of the officer?) The cops are out there—based on orders that come from citizen complaints—making sure drunk people don’t get out of hand, do damage, and hurt innocent people. They were told to be visible and proactive, because this usually keeps things under wraps.

3. The average person knows nothing about stress and human performance. The average person believes that they understand police work because they watch NCIS, CSI and Lethal Weapon movies. So they think that getting up at a meeting and voicing their opinions about an officer’s decision under stress, while knowing virtually nothing about the totality of the circumstances, is perfectly acceptable. They don’t know how fast people move, how quickly they can fire weapons, the difficulty of making literal split-second decisions under stress. They think they do, but they don’t.

4. The media and politicians have created a narrative about police and police force. Interfering, obstructing, calling names and flat out disobeying police officers is now acceptable. Why? Because the general public hears from those in power, how corrupt, violent, and racist the entire police profession is. Why should they respect cops?

Some Questions to Answer

I don’t know all the facts but as an investigator some things stand out.

  • The officer told a man committing a violation of the law, not to move.
  • He not only moved, he ran.
  • He gave clear indication of his intent to resist.
  • He produced a modified, obviously illegal gun.
  • The pulling of that handgun implied that resistance was about to become violent.
  • That man could have turned and fired over a dozen rounds in approximately 3 seconds.
  • The officer, as well as bystanders, were in imminent danger.
  • The officer had to act.
  • Once the gun was produced and the officer decided he needed to shoot to stop the threat his focus became the target.
  • The only target he had was the assailant’s back
  • Shooting someone in the back is not in any way illegal per se.

I’m confident of something else. If that man produced that gun and the officer didn’t fire and that man started shooting and innocent people fell, there would have been an outcry against the officer–and police generally–for a failure to act. A failure to protect.

Conclusion

One more thing. At least in the articles I read, no blame has been placed on the reputed gang member, a felon, flouting the law. He disobeyed simple and legal directions, and produced a dangerously modified handgun in the presence of dozens of people. Somehow, he is the victim and the police officer who was doing the job he was asked to do is the evildoer.

And people wonder why the police across the country aren’t interested in being active and engaged in the community?

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.