A San Francisco judge on Wednesday opted to delay a motion from the District Attorney's Office to dismiss manslaughter charges against former SFPD Officer Christopher Samayoa, in order to give the state Attorney General's Office more time to consider the case.
The politics are pretty clear behind DA Brooke Jenkins's decision three weeks ago to drop the charges against Samayoa or hand the case over to AG Rob Bonta. Unlike her predecessor Chesa Boudin, Jenkins wants not to seem so hostile to the cops, and dropping this watershed prosecution launched during Boudin's tenure is a symbolic way to do that.
The ACLU of Northern California called Jenkins's decision "extremely disturbing," and said it "sends an unmistakable signal that police officers will not be held accountable under Brooke Jenkins' watch."
Samayoa was only four days on the job on December 1, 2017, after going through the police academy, when he shot unarmed 42-year-old Keita O'Neil, who had been fleeing police in a stolen van belonging to the California Lottery. Boudin filed the manslaughter charge against Samayoa in November 2020, citing Samayoa's "terrible, tragic and unlawful decision to pull and shoot his gun."
Jenkins, for her part, says that "the case was filed for political reasons and not in the interests of justice." And, Jenkins wrote, in a letter to Bonta, "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."
O'Neil's family told KTVU last month that Jenkins appeared "more interested in investigating the Boudin administration than she was in holding Christopher Samayoa accountable for the murder of Keita O’Neil," and they said they had requested that the AG's office take over the case.
Bonta's office replied to the attorney for the O'Neils, saying in part that they "do not believe the District Attorney has a recusable conflict of interest in this case." That suggests that Bonta may try to kick this back to Jenkins, but as the SF Standard notes, Bonta ran on holding police more accountable — and this case will be seen as a test of that pledge.
Here’s a portion of a letter sent by the CA AG’s office to the attorney representing Keita O’Neil’s family about the case,— Sergio Quintana (@svqjournalist) March 1, 2023
“We do not believe the District Attorney has a recusable conflict of interest in this case. The legal circumstances mandating recusal are very narrow” pic.twitter.com/Z6ZjNC7pMw
Family and friends of O'Neil and criminal justice activists gathered outside the courthouse in San Francisco Wednesday morning to protest Jenkins's decision and push for prosecution in the case.
This morning, DA Jenkins officially dropped the charges against ex-SFPD officer, Chris Samayoa, who killed Keita O'Neil. If our DA won't hold killer cops accountable for their actions, who will? pic.twitter.com/oBPvX38aCi— San Francisco Rising (@SF_Rising) March 1, 2023
Despite the fact that the AG's office did not send a representative to request a continuance in the case, the judge opted to delay a hearing about the dismissal of charges until March 7, pending a firm decision by Bonta.
As NBC Bay Area reports, Jenkins issued a statement in response:
"We respect the court’s decision to continue this case in order to give the Attorney General’s Office more time to review this matter. We are not opposing that decision. We understand the complexity of this case and the Attorney General’s Office’s need for more time to review this matter. We have already transferred the entire case file to the Attorney General’s office and welcome their independent review."
Can Bonta or a judge compel Jenkins to prosecute this case even if she doesn't want to? Will Bonta's office take it up?
Boudin chimed in after Jenkins announced the decision to drop the case saying to Mission Local, "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 also accused Jenkins of "coordinating with the officer’s defense team to avoid a public hearing on the disturbing facts of the case."
To date, no SFPD officer has ever been successfully prosecuted in a fatal shooting.
Last year, SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel was on trial for an excessive use-of-force case brought by Boudin's office involving a victim, Dacari Spiers, who had been severely injured in a beating by officers near Fisherman's Wharf in 2019. The jury acquitted Stangel on several charges and hung on one charge, and when Boudin's office attempted to seek a new trial, the judge in the case loudly balked.