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The San Mateo County District Attorney’s office has cleared four police officers after they shot an Antioch man nine times during a frenzied sequence in April during which he slashed two people, including an off-duty officer, before taking off in a patrol vehicle.
Four officers, including an off-duty San Francisco sergeant and three South San Francisco officers, fired rounds at 35-year-old Justin Silvernale during the early-morning confrontation that began at a Chevron at 110 Hickey Boulevard in South San Francisco.
In a mandated investigative report this week, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe determined that officers used a “restrained approach” by trying to reason with Silvernale and waiting as he took off in the patrol car and “seemed intent on attacking the officers and any citizen in his path,” Wagstaffe wrote. The District Attorney’s Office decided that the officers’ actions were legally justified.
Silvernale died from multiple gunshot wounds to the torso at the scene, including bullet wounds to his upper back, abdomen and right hip, and had several other bullet entry wounds in his legs and groin, the coroner said. He also had high levels of methamphetamine in his blood.
He was also later linked to a homicide investigation in San Francisco, where a dismembered body was found inside an apartment on the 1600 block of Great Highway two weeks later. Wagstaffe told this news organization that the blood on Silvernale’s pants on April 12 matched the blood of the victim and that Silvernale was carrying the victim’s ID, but deferred questions about the status of the investigation to San Francisco police.
The San Francisco Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Whether he was seeking to end his life by provoking the officers to lethal force cannot ever definitively be known, but it is a reasonable conclusion that was Mr. Silvernale’s goal that Sunday morning,” Wagstaffe wrote.
The encounter unfolded around 5:30 a.m. on April 12. According to security footage obtained by this news organization, Silvernale first attacked a man at his SUV parked by a Chevron pump near the mini-mart, punching him and pulling him out of the vehicle.
Off-duty San Francisco Sgt. William Pon meanwhile was filling up his pickup truck nearby and ran over to intervene. In the footage, Silvernale appears to rush at him several times. The duo traded blows before Pon tried to pick up the handcuffs that had fallen off his belt; at that point, Silvernale slashed him in the face with a box cutter-style knife, Wagstaffe wrote.
Another gas station patron meanwhile gave aid to the man who had been attacked and also slashed under his eye.
Pon backed away and warned Silvernale he would shoot, causing Silvernale to respond, “Go ahead and kill me,” according to Wagstaffe. Silvernale continued to approach Pon, who shot him once in the abdomen. In the surveillance footage, Silvernale can be seen repeatedly making slashing motions at his own throat.
Pon ran to the gas station clerk and asked him to call 911 as Silvernale got to his feet. A few minutes later, officers from the South San Francisco department — including Officer Andrew Hyde and Officer Justin Sakurai — rolled up in their patrol vehicles. Hyde hit Silvernale with a Taser, but quickly got back up, hitting the door of Hyde’s police car with his knife.
South San Francisco police Cpl. Chris Devan arrived at that point, according to Wagstaffe, and instructed the other officers to back further away to create distance. Silvernale walked around to the driver’s side of Hyde’s vehicle and climbed into the car — which had a rifle and shotgun inside — to drive off.
Hyde had left the keys in the car of the vehicle, as is typical, but forgot to lock the door, Wagstaffe said. While that “doesn’t have a consequence from a District Attorney standpoint” evaluating the case, Wagstaffe described it to this news organization as “a mistake.”
Silvernale drove about a mile west out to the Kaiser Permanante medical offices at 295 Hickey Boulevard, attempting to go through the security gates to the parking garage but puncturing the tires of the car. The officers followed and positioned their vehicles outside the garage, while Hyde walked outside on foot, armed with a shotgun.
Silvernale allegedly reversed toward Hyde, and then drove sharply to the right to hit Officer Sakurai’s vehicle, Wagstaffe said. Two more officers, Michael Valdes and Diana Quintero, arrived at that point and effectively sandwiched Silvernale’s vehicle between their own. As Devan shouted at him to get on the ground and drop the knife, Silvernale instead got out and “charged” at the officers with the knife in his right hand, Wagstaffe said.
Hyde fired one round while Devan and Valdes fired four and five rounds, believing that Silvernale intended to kill them and had repeatedly ignored commands, Wagstaffe said. Silvernale made it about two steps before falling onto his back. Devan knocked the knife from his hand and the officers placed handcuffs on him before rendering first aid; he was pronounced dead by emergency responders about 20 minutes later.
Pon and the bystander who was attacked at the gas station both received medical treatment for their injuries.
Devan has been with the South San Francicso department since 2004, while both Hyde and Valdes joined in 2019. Pon joined the San Francisco department in 2007 and was promoted to sergeant in 2014. All four officers were on administrative leave while the District Attorney’s Office completed its investigation.
Staff writer Robert Salonga contributed to this report.
If you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, round-the-clock support, information and resources for help. Reach the lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Dan Carter was a reporter for nomad Labs, before becoming the lead editor. Dan has over forty bylines and has reported on countless stories concerning all things related to tech and science. Dan studied at CSUF.