Tensions are escalating between the SF District Attorney's Office and the Board of Supervisors as the supervisors prepare to vote to formally push for the release of surveillance video in the Banko Brown shooting case.
DA Brooke Jenkins has perhaps her first big political test taking shape in the case of the April 27 shooting death of Banko Brown outside of a Market Street Walgreens. And regardless of the nuances in the case and legal strategy being pursued by Jenkins, on its face the case has already raised plenty of public outcry, pushback from several supervisors, and created the impression that "the city," as an entity, doesn't care enough about Black trans lives to handle the case with care.
Jenkins put out a press statement Monday that walked back some of her previous certainty around shooter Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony's claim of self-defense. And while the case may in fact prove difficult to prosecute, many supporters of Brown and City Hall watchers clearly think Jenkins made a misstep in not filing any initial charges, and in stating from the outset that Anthony "clearly... believed he was in mortal danger and acted in self-defense."
Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Shamann Walton have been calling for the public release of surveillance video from the store, and for a "reconsideration" of charges, after eyewitness accounts have painted an alarming picture that does not sound like clear-cut self-defense. And the full Board of Supervisors is expected to take up the issue in their meeting today, potentially setting up a standoff in which they have formally and strongly urged the SFPD and DA's office to release the tapes — much like they would in the case of an officer-involved shooting.
In this case, Anthony, 33, was reportedly licensed to carry a firearm as a professional security guard. But we have heard so far from witnesses speaking to the press that Brown was unarmed, and was either challenging Anthony to a fight or had already been thrown to the ground by the larger Anthony when the shooting occurred.
Jenkins has said that investigators spoke to multiple witnesses, and from their accounts, along with the video, her office concluded there was insufficient evidence to file a murder charge.
The Chronicle reported Monday that Jenkins sent a letter responding directly to Supervisor Walton's requests last week, which had been sent from the clerk of the Board of Supervisors. In the letter, Jenkins said that Walton's view of the case was based "purely on speculation and conjecture," and that his request that she "reconsider" charges was "wholly inappropriate and dangerous to the interests of justice and a fair criminal justice system for all people."
She also called out Walton's suggestion that the crime had a racial angle, because though the victim in this case was Black, so was the shooter, Anthony.
And in a condescending conclusion, Jenkins told Walton to "take a moment to pause and reflect on the dangers your inquiry posed to a fair and just judicial process."
Walton has formally responded to Jenkins's response, saying, "I do understand that there are several other pieces of evidence to explore and the decisions made by your office do not rely on one source of evidence. I also know that videos are released all the time during investigations and in some cases even required."
Walton also rejects Jenkins's characterization of the release of the video as "unethical." And as KRON4 notes, Walton says that Jenkins's statements about the case on Monday, versus her initial assessment about self-defense, showed a "contradiction."
In Jenkins's statement Monday, she noted that releasing any video too soon could also compromise the ongoing investigation, and she reiterated that the case was not closed and charges may still be filed.
KQED has a piece today focusing on the larger public perception of this case and its aftermath, headlined "Banko Brown's Black Trans Life Mattered."
Noting that Brown had been homeless or housing-insecure since he was ten years old, writer Nastia Voynovskaya says, "Brown’s death is a gross illustration of the cruelty permeating San Francisco, a supposedly inclusive beacon." And, Voynovskaya writes, "Many San Franciscans say they care about LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice, and Brown’s death shows that these issues run so much deeper than representation in entertainment and electoral politics. It means creating a city where all of us can live in dignity."
Photo: Yihong Chen