Police Tip Wheelchair User Out of His Chair in San Francisco

Devaugh Frierson, known to his friends as “Bo,” was out with friends in San Francisco when police responded to a call claiming that a group of people were involved in an altercation, though those on the scene claim they were joking around and may have been racially profiled.

When police arrived, they cited four people, but Bo, concerned about his friends, wheeled over to find out what was happening and offer assistance, a common reaction among people concerned about police interactions. What happened next was almost unbelievable, but it was captured on surveillance and cellphone video: Multiple officers pushed Bo’s chair and then attempted to pitch him into the street.

Frierson, who uses an electric wheelchair for mobility because of a spinal cord injury, wasn’t injured, and his expensive chair wasn’t damaged either, but the situation could have been much worse. It’s also sparked anger and commentary throughout the Bay Area, known as a bastion of disability rights and activism, where many disabled people are angry about the incident. Bo’s assault has also attracted the attention of the black community, as he’s a black man and it comes in the midst of a troubling time when it comes to police-involved assaults on people of color. In a city where protests over police brutality have recently shut down freeways and closed streets, the assault couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The video, which is not of the highest quality, shows the group talking with police and Bo approaching the scene; some observers claim that he was interfering or attempting to block police officers from issuing citations, a claim that’s difficult to determine from the video alone. A police officer appears to be telling him to move away, and then begins “berating” him for running over his foot — the SFPD maintains that Bo was impeding the scene and that he injured the officer. Witnesses and Bo say otherwise, but no matter which side of the debate is right, the response from officers on scene was inappropriate. Police officers first attempted to push his chair, a maneuver that electric wheelchairs are not designed to sustain, and then officers are seen trying to tip him out into the street.

Fortunately, Bo was wearing his seatbelt, which kept him secure in his seat, and a witness ran over to right his chair and assist him. Had he fallen, he could have incurred a serious injury that might have exacerbated his existing disability or necessitated weeks and possibly months of rehabilitation. His chair could also have been damaged — electric wheelchairs cost thousands of dollars and can be difficult to replace or repair. Damaging or destroying a wheelchair takes away a disabled person’s mobility and independence — it’s akin to cutting a bipedal person’s legs off. If a disabled person lacks good insurance or coverage from state agencies, it may be necessarily to bear all or part of the cost of replacing a chair, which can be prohibitively expensive.

Officer Grace Gatpandan, spokeswoman of the SFPD, says the agency intends to investigate the incident in light of the multiple videos and complaints, though no officers have been suspended pending investigation. Bo also indicates that he plans to file a civil rights complaint against the SFPD. In a region where disability rights are taken very seriously by residents, the police department may be facing not just a public relations crisis but serious consequences as the disability community rallies around Frierson.

Photo credit: Screenshot via KPIX 5 video

91 comments

Michelle Spradley

There was no reason for "Bo" to intervene in the situation. Also, it looked to me as though he intentionally ran his wheelchair into the officer. Most people would have been arrested and charged with interference and assaulting an officer.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Z4 years ago

I really believe there's NO reason for cops to dump a disabled person outa his chair @ all. Perhaps if the person in the wheelchair was pointing a gun @ the cops then maybe but otherwise, No.

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Alfred Donovan
Past Member 4 years ago

I would say that in this case Bo was confrontational and should not have intervened on the video you can hear people shouting for him not to go over.It's also clear that he did reverse his wheelchair into the cop.I do believe though that the cop should have shown more restraint.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

More out of control cops. The attitude is spreading like a plague. Their abusive acts on people and animals is spiraling out of control and no one seems to think it needs to be stopped and accounted for. I agree it is a 50/50 situation but the cop escalated it to an unnecessary level and should face sanctions.

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Pat P.
Pat P4 years ago

If someone sees his cousin (apparently in a harmless scuffle) being beat on by the police, it is a natural and commendable action to try to protect him, although, nowadays, maybe not too smart. I would have difficulty seeing a relative of mine endure that type of abuse without wanting to help him--and just sit there and watch it happen.

When you see an injustice being committed, you don't just ignore it. I don't care who is doing it.

If Bo did run the officer's foot over (no clear evidence of that), it did not appear intentional.
Nevertheless, the officer's attempt to push a crippled man in a wheel chair over into the street was inexcusable! An already injured man could have been permanently harmed and, probably, would have been, if it were not for his seat belt.

It is sickening to hear some of our commenters attempt to justify the violent behavior of an angry out-of-control cop.

Why were the police even involved?

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Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

He should not have tried to intervene in the first place but the police were totally out of control by trying to push his wheelchair into the street. If he ran over an officers foot, I'm sure it was an accident. I don't think he has a right to sue, he was interfering with police procedures.

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Manuela C.
Manuela C4 years ago

Unbelievable!

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Dianne Dunn
Past Member 4 years ago

In Canada we are very aware that whatever the police, or RCMP ask us to do, we must COMPLY with RIGHT AWAY, or we might be taken down, or even shot. Police can lose their lives, ie if even an innocent person might have a hidden gun or knife....and people sometimes do carry a knife, or gun, even though it is illegal here...if they do not take someone down that might have a gun, or knife hidden and the person is NOT COMPLYING WITH THEIR COMMANDS, they have to take them down or they might lose their life. (A lot of them are married with children too.) Please remember to ......COMPLY RIGHT AWAY....and then there will not be a problem. Most police here are kind and save many lives and assist the public whenever and where ever they are needed. They help the homeless, hold bike rides to collect money for cancer, and a great many other things to help everyone. I am not familiar with the police in the U.S.A., but wish that people were not able to carry guns in the U.S....Maybe that is the difference for the police .....they may have learned to be quicker and rougher so they don't get shot! ( No matter what though all people should be treated equally.....ALWAYS! We embrace all nationalities in Canada. Very few people are prejudiced towards other nationalities here, though a lot of people are annoyed with our government that the infrastructure was not built first to accommodate such an huge influx of new immigrants. Our hospitals, schools, roads, housing, health care syst

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Marc P.
Marc P4 years ago

Today's police don't give a rats as about who they abuse. The elderly, mentally ill, children, and even crippled people. You see, we are all nothing but garbage to them. Wretched refuse in need of discarding. The total disdain for humanity exhibited by many officers reminds me of the behavior of the SS in Nazi Germany. And they are WINNING in their campaign of propaganda designed to make the majority of the public to embrace or ignore these despicable tactics. Great job American citizens! Way to hold your government accountable!

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