After losing the trial in the first use-of-force case brought against an on-duty SFPD officer, DA Chesa Boudin says “You can’t be scared to lose,” and is still prosecuting cases against five other officers.
It is certainly a blow to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin that in the first excessive-force trial brought against an on-duty SF police officer, the jury voted to acquit officer Terrance Stangel on three of the four counts (they deadlocked on a fourth). But this case was more than just this case, it spawned allegations that Boudin buried evidence that would have exonerated Officer Stangel, which led to the SFPD pulling out of an agreement with the DA’s office for independent investigations of alleged police brutality cases. And of course the whole thing took place with a backdrop of a recall Chesa Bouin election coming up in June.
Boudin just gave the Chronicle his first interview since losing the case. “You can’t be scared to lose,” the told the paper. “Doing justice does not mean only bringing those cases where you have slam-dunk opportunity to win.”
The jurors saw evidence we did not. And apparently the beating victim in the case, Dacari Spiers, was depicted to have had a history of domestic violence arrests, but no convictions. (Spiers won a $700,000 settlement for his troubles, though police say they were responding to a 911 call that he was in the act of domestic violence at the time.) The Chron reports that jurors hear “about the criminal history of Dacari Spiers,” and that “This evidence included charges in which Spiers was convicted, but also domestic violence arrests in which he was never charged.”
“We saw some internal sabotage within our own office, and we saw rulings by the courts that are unthinkable in all my years trying cases in the Hall of Justice, and talking to lawyers who have been around for decades,” Boudin said.
This case is certainly a high-profile setback, but Boudin’s office has otherwise had an unusually good couple of weeks from a public relations perspective. A lawsuit against him from an alleged Chinatown beating victim was dropped by the plaintiff, likely for lack of good evidence. His discovery that police used rape kit DNA evidence to prosecute a rape victim drew a national uproar, and forced the SFPD to publicly apologize and backtrack. That disclosure won “good guy” coverage of Boudin in prominent national publications.
But prominent national publication coverage is not what will decide this recall election. Fallout from this case and all of the other above-mentioned variables will decide the recall. And while Boudin barely won the 2019 election, that took place before the whole George Floyd reckoning on police violence.
So there may still be some retail political value to cracking down on police violence. And in that regard, Boudin still has five more officers he’s trying to prosecute for misconduct.