DA Brooke Jenkins has decided she’s dropping the charges against a former SFPD officer who shot and killed unarmed Keita O’Neil in 2017, but says AG Rob Bonta is free to prosecute it if he wants to.
One-time SFPD officer Chris Samayoa had been on the job for merely four days in 2017 when, in pursuit of an unarmed alleged carjacking suspect, he shot and killed that suspect, 42-year-old Keita O’Neil. Some three years later, then-DA Chesa Boudin brought manslaughter charges against Samayoa, in what were the first charges against an SFPD officer for an on-duty killing. O’Neil’s family was subsequently awarded a $2.5 million settlement in December 2021, but on the prosecutorial front, the equation certainly changed when Boudin was recalled and Brooke Jenkins was appointed DA.
Samayoa’s manslaughter case was making its way through the courts when, predictably, Samayoa’s attorneys said last month that the case should be dropped, and blamed the whole case on some manner of prosecutorial misconduct by Boudin. DA Jenkins has decided she agrees, and the Chronicle reported late Thursday that her office is dropping the case and charges against Samayoa.
“It appears that the case was filed for political reasons and not in the interests of justice,” Jenkins wrote in a letter to state AG Rob Bonta. “I cannot pursue this case out of political convenience. Given the conflicts that have arisen, the evidentiary problems, and the complete lack of good faith surrounding the filing of this matter, we cannot ethically proceed with this prosecution.”
But Jenkins also gave herself an out, by offering the hot potato to Bonta if he wants to prosecute the case. “This notification provides the DOJ with an opportunity to take over this matter before it is dismissed,” Jenkins continued. “Despite our assessment that we are unable to ethically proceed with this case we invite the Attorney General’s Office, who is the foremost authority in this area, to review our decision in this case by taking over the prosecution.”
Attorneys for O’Neil’s family are disappointed, but would prefer that Bonta prosecute this case anyway.
"We made this request," their attorney Broad Ford told KTVU. "Because we believed Brooke Jenkins and her office to be conflicted in the prosecution, that she was more interested in investigating the Boudin administration than she was in holding Christopher Samayoa accountable for the murder of Keita O’Neil."
The political ramifications of this case continue to make waves at City Hall, particularly in the wake of protests over the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols. At a City Hall vigil for Nichols last week, Mayor Breed was heckled and shouted at by a family member of O’Neil, and other anti-police brutality activists.
Jenkins claims that Boudin pressured a subordinate to sign a warrant for Samayoa’s arrest hastily, and with inadequate evidence. That subordinate disputes the account, and has himself lawyered up.
Chesa Boudin, meanwhile, has been watching this all from the sidelines. “Jenkins’s dismissal is offensive and her excuses are dishonest: We charged this case based on the facts — the same facts that led the police department to fire the officer, led the judge to sign the arrest warrant, and led the city to settle a multi-million dollar lawsuit with Keita O’Neil’s family,” Boudin told Mission Local. “It’s clear Jenkins has been coordinating with the officer’s defense team to avoid a public hearing on the disturbing facts of the case.”
State AG Rob Bonta has not yet indicated whether he will take pursue a case against Samayoa.
Related: SF District Attorney Files Manslaughter Charges Against Cop In 2017 Shooting [SFist]
Image: @BrookeJenkinsSF via Twitter