Embattled District Attorney Chesa Boudin continues to push back against his critics and those who want him recalled in an election this spring, and this week he's having to engage in a war of words with the police chief.
On Wednesday, SFPD Chief Bill Scott issued a letter to Boudin's office announcing the department's official withdrawal from a memo of understanding (MOU) that gives the DA's office investigative control over use-of-force cases brought against the police. Scott said this was due to claims of withheld evidence in a 2019 case in which a man was beaten with a baton by an officer near Fisherman's Wharf — a case that arose prior to Boudin's tenure as DA, and in which a judge recently said she found no evidence of such misconduct by prosecutors.
It is the case of Dacari Spiers, who police say was engaged in a domestic violence incident with his girlfriend at the time that they subdued him — breaking his leg and wrists in the process. Spiers is in line to get a $700,000 settlement from the city for the beating, but the police union, and now Chief Scott, continue to suggest that the officer involved, Terrance Stangel, did nothing wrong.
Since Spiers first filed suit against the SFPD in February 2020, Spiers' attorneys have claimed the domestic violence story was fabricated, however attorneys for the police have contended that a witness claimed to have seen Spiers with his hands around his girlfriend's throat. Spiers was never charged with any crime, and Boudin earlier said that Stangel "violently [beat] a Black man whom he had no legal basis to even arrest."
The claim of withheld evidence comes out of testimony by DA’s office criminal investigator Magen Hayashi, who said that under pressure from prosecutors, she left information out of Spiers' arrest warrant that a witness had made a 911 call claiming that he was beating his girlfriend on the street. Hayashi said she was told by colleagues that this was irrelevant to the case. And Superior Court Judge Teresa Caffese last week said that the evidence in question was "redundant" and irrelevant to the case against Stangel.
"It appears that the DA’s Office has an ongoing practice of investigations against SFPD officers that includes withholding and concealing information and evidence the SFPD is entitled to have," Scott said in his letter this week, disregarding the judge's comments.
Today, Boudin is pushing back against this idea, and says that even if a violation of the MOU with the SFPD did occur, it can be dealt with without politicizing this possible violation and turning this into a referendum against Boudin as he faces a recall.
"It is disappointing but no coincidence SFPD chose to withdraw from this agreement during the first-ever trial against of an on-duty San Francisco police officer for an unlawful beating," the DA's Office said in a statement.
And as KPIX reports, Boudin said today, regarding Scott's public letter, "The appropriate remedy would be to sit down and talk about how we fix those kinds of violations and how we prevent them from occurring in the future. I’ve had that conversation with Chief Scott many times when SFPD has violated the terms of the MOU."
And, regarding such violations, Boudin says they are "not uncommon."
"My office has MOUs with more than 70 different city agencies, nonprofits, and corporations that we do victim services work with that we share resources and investigations with," Boudin said, per KPIX. "And violations of MOUs happen all the time. What doesn’t happen, is politicizing those violations or allowing the police union to dictate who investigates police officers accused of excessive force."
The problem of police unions trying to prevent or impede investigations into use-of-force cases like this is a national one — and the radio show and podcast This American Life just did a two-episode series about a case involving an officer in Muskegon, Michigan who had a disturbing history of excessive force involving people of color, and they discuss how systems to flag or investigate officers with bad records like this tend to be rigged in favor of the officers.
Other cities are not necessarily trying to recall their district attorneys, however, and that effort is definitely coloring the media attention on this case.
It should be noted that former SF District Attorney George Gascon, under whose watch the Spiers/Stangel case unfolded and under whose tenure the MOU with the SFPD was originally signed in 2019, is now the DA in Los Angeles, and a signature-gathering effort is underway there to recall him.
Suffice it to say, this is not the last we will hear about this use-of-force case, or the last time that it is likely to be used against Boudin.
Photo: Smeeta Mahanti/Chesa 4 DA