SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two San Francisco police sergeants fatally shot a man apparently intent on suicide outside their station after he pulled an air gun from his waistband that they thought might be a firearm, officials said on Monday.
The Sunday evening shooting came as law enforcement officers around the United States have been on edge since two New York police officers were killed on Dec. 20 by a gunman who said he was seeking to avenge the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.
In the San Francisco incident, the man was seen loitering in the parking lot of the San Francisco Police Department's Mission station on Sunday and was asked to leave, police said in a statement.
The man, whose identity was not immediately released, then stood in the driveway of the parking lot, blocking the exit of the police sergeants as they tried to leave in a car, police said.
The sergeants got out of the vehicle and told him to leave, and the man walked out of the lot and lifted his sweater, showing what appeared to be the butt of a handgun, police said.
Police said the sergeants shot the man three times as he lifted what was later determined to be an air pistol that shoots BBs or pellets, not a handgun, from his waistband.
Police said a search of the man's phone revealed suicide letters including one titled, "Dear Officer(s)." The letter was released with the permission of the killed man's father, police said.
"You did nothing wrong. You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself," the letter said, according to police.
"Please, don't blame yourself. I used you. I took advantage of you," it added, police said.
The man was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he died of his injuries on Sunday evening. San Francisco police officials said they plan to hold a town hall meeting to discuss the fatal shooting.
The man shot by police had approached officers earlier in the day to ask what kind of guns they carried and if they had been involved in any shootings, police said.
(Additional reporting by Emmett Berg and Curtis Skinner; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)