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Tales of the dark side: SFPD shooting death of Asa Sullivan , 21 months later...

by IdrissStelley Foundation (iolmisha [at]
Twenty-one long months ago, young Brother Asa Sullivan was assassinated by San Francisco police, followed barely two weeks later by the police shooting death of Brother Oliver "Big O" Lefiti in the Mission district.

Asa's mom, Kathy Espinosa, and Nicole Guerra, mother of "Little Asa," now 7 years old, still wait for justice.

Tales of the dark side: SFPD shooting death of Asa Sullivan
by mesha Monge-Irizarry - Idriss Stelley Foundation
Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Twenty-one long months ago, young Brother Asa Sullivan was assassinated by San Francisco police, followed barely two weeks later by the police shooting death of Brother Oliver "Big O" Lefiti in the Mission district.

Asa's mom, Kathy Espinosa, and Nicole Guerra, mother of "Little Asa," now 7 years old, still wait for justice.

On Tuesday, June 6, 2006, around 8 p.m., an SFPD officer fatally shot Brother Asa as he crouched in an attic's two-and-a-half-foot crawl space, hiding because he'd recently spent a short time in jail and was afraid of going back. According to press reports, officers were responding to a neighbor's complaint of possible trespassers, yet Asa and his friend were there with the tenants' permission.

According to Police Chief Heather Fong in the initial press release, "Asa B. Sullivan, 25, had his arms outstretched and was holding a cylindrical object when the officers confronted him in an apartment at Lake Merced housing complex," an upscale residential community.

The "object" turned out to be an eyeglass case.

Later, the chief conceded that police had given a preliminary account of the shooting to reporters that turned out to contain "several errors": Police originally claimed that Asa was armed and had fired through the ceiling, narrowly missing one officer, and that two other officers then opened fire into the ceiling, when actually the round that went through the floor was a ricochet fired by one of the two officers.

Asa, copiously vilified by the San Francisco Chronicle, had been working for Goodwill Industries in San Francisco and as a bricklayer and a caregiver. He was dearly loved by his many friends and his family.

All along, SFPD has been trying to justify an unjustifiable shooting through at least three different versions of this homicide they perpetrated and ongoing demonization of Asa, with the assistance of the corporate media, thickening the Blue Wall of Silence.

At his untimely death, his son, "Little Asa," was 5 years old. From all accounts by his close and extended family, "Big Asa" had never been a violent person.

Asa Sullivan was SFPD Murder Victim No. 17 since 1996. Like all the other eight Black victims of SF cop murder over the past decade, Asa was shot in cold blood, while unarmed.
Asa is survived by his siblings: his older brother Khalil, a nursing assistant in Southern California, and his younger brother Sangh and sister Tsha, who live in the Bay Area.

On Wednesday, March 12, Nicole Guerra, mother of Asa's young son, and Kathy Espinosa, Asa's mother, appeared once more in SF Police Commission chambers to make public comment. Nicole, intimidated by the roomful of "top brass" and police lovers, cannot gather the energy to testify, while Kathy hugs her: "Nicole, it's OK."

Kathy Espinosa speaks: "I would like to know what the department and the commission are doing to prevent unnecessary lethal force. Can someone tell me?" Theresa Sparks, commission president, replies: "We are not supposed to respond to individual public comments, we can only hear them."

In turn, I tell the commissioners that Asa is not just a statistic, and recount my horrifying experience at Duggan's Funeral Service, at Asa's wake: "I looked at Asa in the casket, wondering, why did they make him look like this? His face is so unnatural looking." The funeral director told me: ‘You don't understand. He took five shots in the face. We had to reconstruct it altogether.' The commission must realize the horror of the family.
"And why so much delay from the department to contact family members through a ‘police liaison' after a police homicide?
"Why aren't there any grieving families in the SFPD mental health training panel of speakers? Several of us have made ourselves available many times; we're still waiting."

Kathy later recalls during our interview: "Asa's complexion was much lighter than what he looked like in the casket. His skin with the makeup on to cover the five bullets to his face was so much darker than it really had been when Asa was alive. The darker makeup made him resemble his father, Michael Sullivan, a whole lot more. When Asa's body was shipped back to our family on Michael's side, the comment most spoken was how much he looked like Michael. Michael was much darker than Asa, due to his Native American roots."

In Police Commission chambers, the commissioners and Chief Fong are taking hasty notes; then they swiftly move on to the next agenda item: the police chief's weekly report. Nicole, hiding her face, is silently sobbing in her seat.

We leave the chambers, while Deputy Chief Chin - who recently replaced Tacchini, demoted for covering up his son's record of domestic violence - sent by Chief Fong, runs after us in the hallway and gives his card to Kathy. He presents his condolences to both women, asserting that he will soon be in touch. Neutral and respectful, with impeccable public relations and "damage control" savoir faire, Chin has since placed two calls to Kathy.

We walk to the Moonstar Cafe on Market Street to eat a bite and do a long-overdue follow up interview about Asa's senseless slaying.

Nicole, a young sister with soft, stunning indigenous features and the fair skin of mixed heritage people, in spite of her heavy down jacket, not used to San Francisco's sudden drops in temperature, silently shivers in the evening fog, while Kathy, in her usual taketaker's mode, asks me how I've been doing since the sixth anniversary of my son Idriss Stelley's murder by SFPD.

mMI: Kathy, there have been lots of delays in obtaining reports for you. Can you tell us how long?

KE: The medical examiner's report was completed Sept. 29, 2006, and was released Oct. 12, 2006, so it took about four months. I always wondered how Asa's body was treated from beginning to end by all involved. Nicole has been instrumental from the beginning in keeping in touch with the Coroner's Office and doing most of the talking for us. I am so glad she was there to help!
I was at Project Hired in Santa Clara - the best employment assistance agency for disabled people in the U.S as far as I can see! - when I became aware of the horrible condition my son was left in through a call I received informing me that they were 16 bullets in Asa's body. I was then in the middle of working really hard on typing up my curriculum vitae when I received this dreadful call. Never did get back to writing this resume.
The police report was released about a year after Asa died. The trial is set for October 2006 at the San Francisco Federal Building. John Burris is on my team of attorneys. The jury selection will take place when we get closer to the trial phase.

mMI: The murder of Asa must have run havoc on your life. Kathy, how has it been for you for the past two years?

KE: I have been in transitional housing ever since I returned to the Bay Area due to Asa being killed. I am as stable as I can get at the moment, living in a house now. My husband Nelson Espinosa and I are now separated, and I am staying with my ex-husband J.J. and family.

mMI: Coming back to the topic of the absence of a "police liaison" for your family, can you tell us what happened?

KE: Well, that Inspector Cleary, I really had no idea he was "on my side," but he was the only one who ever called me. I must say he was polite, I still have his phone number. I did not know he was my liaison person, as I had never heard those words until we went to a police commission meeting and a Bay Guardian article mentioned it.
Cleary offered to meet me in his office but it was not clear for what reason. He said he could send me a "pamphlet." I told him to send it as I was in the middle of packing and picking my things up in Van Nuys, from where I found out that Asa had been killed.
Many lies were told such as a gun found by Asa's side. I knew in my heart that could not be true about my son. I was in the LA area and I was not going to make it to Cleary's office by 5 p.m. as he wanted me to. It was not the best time for me to talk to him and I said so. The call was short. Cleary sent a standard pamphlet with his card inside. I received it and looked at it.

NG: You know, although I am the mother of Little Asa, Asa's son, no liaison person from the SFPD has ever contacted me!

KE: When we first met you, mesha, at a police commission meeting, there were some papers circulating around the room that evening. One was about police procedures on how they make their investigations when a firearm is used and the legal timelines. Another was concerning Cleary's attempts to reach our family. It showed calls to Asa's half-sister, Tasha, in Atlanta - not Tsha, my daughter.

mMI: Nicole, you have not been saying much this evening. How has it been for you?

NG: (After a silence, she gives me a quickly fading smile.) I don't like to talk much. It's real hard (repressing tears). I wish it would be all over. But it never ends, does it? I work in a real busy doctor's office. I like it that way, so I do not have time to think too much.
Little Asa has been in counseling, and his therapist tells me that he always talks about his dad in the present tense. (Nicole pauses, sobbing.) It's like, in his mind, his dad is still here with him, every day. Yet he recently told me, "Mom, do you think you could buy me a new dad for my birthday?" We both miss Asa so much, every day. Asa and I were separated, but we maintained a friendship as parents of Little Asa, for our son's sake.

(Kathy hugs Nicole who breaks down again. "It's OK; you are doing really good. You are strong. It's OK." Kathy, who had a very hard life, switches as always into survival mode and smiles, comforting others, when she wants to cry.)

KE: I also feel Asa is always with me! We use to live by the railroad station in Santa Clara. Every time I hear the CalTrain whistle, or any train for that matter, I think of Asa and imagine him still riding on the trains he used to commute on from Santa Clara to San Francisco and back. When I see it come or hear it, I cannot help looking at it and feel he is riding on that train!
I want to make sure you convey what a great person and son Asa was. He loved to laugh, and always tried to cheer up everyone! He was wonderful with children too.
Asa knew really well how to handle his anger. He had matured so much by the end of his short life of 25 years. It's horrible to think about him being shot so many times and knowing how sweet and innocent his true soul was.
Little Asa is 7 years old now. I was watching him overnight last Saturday, before he left on Sunday afternoon for his baseball game, which his team won. He misses his dad so bad. And can express himself very well. I let him color the paper airplane we made from a kit in a book with his dad's markers. I told him that the markers are special and only for him to use with me. He made a beautiful airplane and had fun flying it around the house. He took it with him!

mMI: Nicole, you are raising a Black child in very painful circumstances. As a sister of color, how is that for you?

NG: Well, I have not thought about it that way, really. True, come to think of it, all my friends are people of color. My mom is White, my dad is from Mexico, but we never talk about our mixed heritage at home.

I briefly talk to young Sister Nicole about exploring her Raza rich heritage and spirituality, as a powerful source of healing and a recovery tool in singlehandedly raising Big Asa's beautiful, bright child. Nicole becomes more animated, eyes gleaming. The smile returns; she asks questions. Kathy offers to go to church with her.

KE: I attended a six-week grief support group in Santa Clara at a peaceful place called The Atrium. The small group of six other participants has helped me understand what happens to one who is crushed with overwhelming feelings behind the death of a loved one.

In four months, the Sullivans' federal trial begins.

Elvira Pollard, mother of Gus Rugley, 21, assassinated by SFPD on June 29, 2005, a month after the shooting death of disabled Brother Cammerin Boyd, called Idriss Stelley Foundation this week. Her federal trial starts next month.

Ever since Brother Asa's SFPD assassination, other loved ones killed by San Francisco law enforcement officers continue to be portrayed as "violent thugs" by SFPD and the corporate media.

R.I.P. "Big O" Lefiti, Craig Holden, Marlon Ruff, Herbert Tyron Watts, Kathryn Ecklund, Rene Alexander Robinson, Mario Vargas, Leonard Michael Cole.

Sadly, the San Francisco Chronicle and SFPD precinct "community" newsletters may briefly have alluded to many other "justified" lethal shootings by police.

We make a mental note and move on, soon forgetting to honor our fallen sisters and brothers. In the most liberal city of the world, we become somewhat jaded to the poor, the homeless, the Black and Brown lives stolen at the hands of the "thugs in blue."

But not Kathy Espinosa.

I am always in awe, reading her countless loving messages to all the grieving families of police murder victims on her website, set up two years ago by Idriss Stelley Foundation, now moderated by Kathy and her oldest son, Khalil:

Transcending her unspeakable grief, she brings hope and healing to survivors of police violence. Nicole, Little Asa, Kathy, Big Asa Sullivan is so proud of you!

Idriss Stelley Foundation (ISF), providing law enforcement accountability direct services, is located in the Red Stone Building, 2940 16th St., Suite 209, San Francisco CA 94110. For an appointment or to report police misconduct, call (415) 595-8251, the ISF 24-hour trilingual hotline. Email mesha Monge-Irizarry at\n iolmisha [at]
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