On Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a joint statement with SF Mayor London Breed and City Attorney David Chiu about helping SF's embattled district attorney and the city's police department work out their differences.
The seemingly urgent nature of the statement follows on some significant tension over the last two weeks that has some fraught and political underpinnings. An SFPD officer is currently being tried, for the first time in known city history, for excessive use of force in subduing a suspect who ended up not being charged with any crime. And in the course of the lead-up to that trial, an arguably manufactured controversy arose over some excluded evidence against the suspect who was beaten — which a judge deemed redundant and irrelevant to the trial at hand — and that led to SFPD Chief Bill Scott abruptly announcing the withdrawal from a memo of understanding (MOU) between the department and the DA concerning use-of-force investigations of the police.
"We are all working together to support the parties to swiftly and collaboratively reach an agreement on the terms of an amended MOU that address the significant issues of compliance, accountability, and mutual expectations," the trio of Bonta, Breed, and Chiu writes.
“Fundamentally, the MOU is an important tool for advancing transparency and accountability, which are cornerstones in ensuring effective policing and fortification of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” they continue. “We appreciate our collective conversations with the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department, and their willingness to come to the table to renegotiate the MOU. Our three offices will work closely with both parties to advance these efforts with all due haste."
All due haste!
They add, "We are committed to ensuring that any past violations of the MOU are addressed as this effort moves forward, and to working to identify and resolve concerns raised regarding any potentially systemic deficiencies that have contributed to distrust. Both the District Attorney and the Chief of Police have expressed their commitment to independent and fair investigations when these incidents involving police officers do occur."
Boudin has not acknowledged any wrongdoing by himself or his staff in handling the case against Officer Terrance Stangel. But, as he said two weeks ago, if a violation of the MOU is found to have occurred, "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... [not] politicizing those violations or allowing the police union to dictate who investigates police officers accused of excessive force."
In his own statement, per the Examiner, Chief Scott says, "I’m grateful to Attorney General Bonta, Mayor Breed and City Attorney Chiu for recognizing and responding to the significant issues of compliance that eroded my confidence in the integrity of my agreement with District Attorney Boudin’s office. I stand strongly for the principles of accountability and transparency, which are foundational to all 21st century police reforms — including those involving uses of force and officer-involved shootings. But accountability and transparency must be mutually honored by both parties in agreements such as these."
Had this been a more recent case and had this been a fatal officer-involved event, this conflict might be moot, as AG Bonta announced last summer that his office and the state DOJ will handle investigating all fatal police shootings from here on out.
As it stands, Boudin's office has several other cases pending against current and former SFPD officers, including a manslaughter case against former rookie SFPD Officer Christopher Samayoa for the December 1, 2017 shooting of 42-year-old Keita O’Neil.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images