Homicide: Stephen Guillermo’s Global Filipino death
In San Francisco, the Guillermo family waits for justice in a murder. But it may take the Philippine government to step in.
Stephen Guillermo, 26, though naturalized, was born in the Philippines and had both a Filipino mother and father. He was my cousin.
On Saturday, May 3rd, Stephen was shot and killed by an African immigrant, Amisi Kachepa, 68, who turned himself in and was held on suspicion of murder.
But despite Kachepa’s admission of shooting my cousin, the office of SF District Attorney George Gascon determined there just wasn’t enough to hold and charge Kachepa for murder. He was released on Tuesday night.
It was a shock to my family.
Kachepa is twice the size of my cousin Stephen, who was slight, un-athletic and tiny by comparison. Much has been made of his inebriated state, but Stephen was sober enough to text, responsible enough to have named a designated driver.
He wasn’t a threat to anyone.
Most important, he was non-violent and unarmed. As his sister, Sharmaine, said publicly, he recently was so scared of a bee, he didn’t want to swat at it. It was all in keeping with his gentle nature. He had immigrated from the Philippines at age eight. His father grew a family while waiting for his immigration petition that took nearly 20 years.
Once in America, the family lived like they were still in the Philippines — in a small apartment in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. When his father died a few years ago, Stephen took on two jobs to support the family and went from older brother—“kuya”—to surrogate dad to his younger siblings.
Stephen also had an inheritance: his father’s debt, most of which was incurred to make ends meet.
All that, and he kept up his studies at San Francisco State so he could graduate in June.
It nearly killed him. He suffered from hypertension. No wonder he felt he deserved a special night out with friends on what was a three-day weekend for him.
As Friday night passed into Saturday morning, May 3, his fatal mistake was going home and taking the elevator to the wrong floor. Instead of his 5th floor apartment, he went to the identical apartment on the 3rd floor.
Now Stephen is dead from a bullet to his torso, and the shooter, Kachepa, is free “pending further investigation.”
We found out what that meant.
When my family met with San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, he said the police would “re-canvass” the building “to make sure we didn’t miss any witnesses, or that any witnesses we talked to now recall anything they didn’t recall.”
And it also meant looking into additional background on the suspect.
“We want to get this right,” Suhr said. “To leave no stone unturned.” The chief admitted the chance was “slim” of finding anything new.
By the close of business Thursday, the “re-investigation” was sent back to the DA, without a chance for anything really substantive to be done. Indeed, when the directive came back so general, without a specific list of things to gather or look for, I knew this was just a pro forma double checking. Should I hope that the DA would look at it with new eyes? Or is this a “when pigs fly” situation? My real hope was that they would give more consideration to the only important witness, a person I’ll call “W.”
Is key witness being discounted?
Forget the speculation you might see on the Internet. With Stephen dead, W appears to be the most credible witness on the same floor as the killer.
W spoke to police investigators, but the DA seems to have given short shrift to her direct experience.
W didn’t see anything, but she heard the sounds of the killing from behind her door in the apartment across from the crime scene.
W told the family what she told police investigators: Before the shooting, she heard nothing out of the ordinary.
No drunken man stumbling to the apartment. No keys jangling with someone trying to unlock a door. No banging on the door. No breaking of a doorknob or lock. No screams. No conversation. No noise at all.
Nothing to indicate a break-in or some kind of intrusion. A door knob has since been removed, likely for evidence. But just the knob handle. The lock was still in place.
It suggests that someone was let in by unlocking first a knob lock and then the second lock — a deadbolt at about eye level.
The deadbolt from what I have observed is not damaged at all, indicating that any entry would have to be initiated from inside the apartment — by Kachepa.
This was not a break-in. Nor was it a home invasion.
The entire scenario appears to have been enabled by Kachepa, who must have opened his secure door to let Stephen in.
On the third floor, W said she could hear everything that happened in the hallway. “It all echoes in the apartment,” she said. Especially at 1:40 a.m. And she heard nothing.
W says if Stephen were let in, “he’d be scared. I don’t see him making the first move.” And he’d go in willingly, thinking it was his apartment.
W says she didn’t hear any conversation at all.
“It seems simple to tell someone (through the door), even if they’re drunk, that this isn’t his room,” she said. “Or speak through the door and not even open the door.”
Instead of any dialogue, she heard the gunshot.
It was soon followed by Kachepa banging on her door—she recognized his accent.
“‘Let me in, let me in,’ he was saying,” said W. “‘Call the ambulance.’” But W was too scared and told him she’d call 911 on her own cell phone, which she did.
The security guard downstairs had already called 911 when he heard the gunshot.
A second security guard was called in, and he told W that he saw the body of Stephen inside the apartment slumped over on a small cot.
W told me that she thought Stephen had been shot after he plopped down on the cot. W says Kapecha was so much bigger than Stephen that she couldn’t imagine the need for deadly force. “To be that big over a little guy,” she said. “How do you just shoot someone like that?”
These are important details that should be in the police report that the family has not been privy to.
Indeed, the family has been kept in the dark about the simplest details. Only during our meeting with the chief, did he tell us the weapon used was a handgun. But was it legal, properly registered, licensed and owned?
He didn’t say. Though he implied it may have been. He was only adamant that it was legal to have a gun in the home. The family wanted to make the point that Kachepa’s release meant that he could freely return to his apartment, and re-arm. The chief acknowledged that.
Later, in a public meeting, the chief indicated the police kept the murder weapon.
It was Kachepa they let go.
San Francisco DA George Gascon
The DA seems to be anticipating the suspect’s invocation of the “Castle doctrine,” a form of “Stand Your Ground” that exists in California.
It’s based on the idea that “your home is your castle.” It justifies lethal force if there’s been an illegal entry into your home and you feel a reasonable threat of some kind.
DAs must fear what going up against Castle might do to their win-loss records. Instead, they should be thinking about the senseless deaths that can result from trigger-happy gun owners who shoot first and answer questions later.
As I said to the SF Board of Supervisors and the SF Police Commission, this should be the case San Francisco uses to get greater clarity on when a gun can be used responsibly in the city.
That can’t happen until the suspect is charged.
My family believes that if Amisi Kapecha were charged, he would be forced to account for his actions.
And why not let the system — a San Francisco jury — decide whether guns should be allowed to rule the city? Why do gun owners believe they are free to use their weapons — even in error — without consequence?
Police Chief Suhr seemed to prepare me for the worst when he said proudly that there was no statute of limitations on murder, suggesting that the Guillermo family might get justice some day for the death of Stephen Guillermo. If it’s sooner than later, DA George Gascon must elect to do the right thing now.
Currently, there’s a case in Montana, where a German exchange student was shot while engaged in a prank inside the shooter’s garage.
It’s a Castle case, but the shooter was charged, possibly because the German government had pressured the DA there.
Should there be pressure by the Philippine Government on San Francisco’s DA?
That might be what’s needed for the DA to do the right thing.
Speaking about Stephen at the SF Philippine Consulate
Please attend my short talk about the different aspects of the case of Stephen Guillermo, especially how it relates to the Philippine Diaspora.
Would Stephen and his family have come to America if they felt there was a better future there?
(To attend just fill out this survey: http://rad-aspen-institute.polldaddy.com/s/rockefeller-aspen-diaspora-program )
Originally, I was asked by the Rockefeller/Aspen Institute Diaspora program to speak about how we could help the Philippines. But events have made this town hall even more relevant.
The event is on Monday night, May 19, at the Philippine Consulate, 447 Sutter Street, San Francisco at 6 p.m.
It’s free. And there will be food.
Just fill out the survey and come by on Monday May 19.
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