Prosecutors are planning to dismiss the case against the first San Francisco cop to face charges for killing someone while on duty after the alleged victim's family feared for months that the new district attorney wasn't serious about holding law enforcement accountable.
In a Feb. 8 letter to California Attorney General Rob Bonta that was obtained by BuzzFeed News, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said her office intends to dismiss the charges against former police officer Chris Samayoa "unless [the state] decides to step in and take over the case." Jenkins, who was appointed to the job in July following the recall of former San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin, said her office now believes that the case "was not in fact filed in good faith."
"It appears that the case was filed for political reasons and not in the interests of justice," Jenkins wrote. "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."
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News Thursday, Jenkins confirmed her decision to not move forward with the case, saying that she has "an obligation to only pursue cases that are filed in good faith and that we believe we can prosecute."
"I am committed to holding police and law enforcement accountable any time we can prove that they are in violation of the law," she said. "In support of the family’s wishes, we have asked the California Attorney General’s Office to independently review this case because of the conflicts and issues that have arisen and we will assist their office in any way that we can.”
A spokesperson for the attorney general's office confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they have received the request and are reviewing it.
On Dec. 1, 2017, Samayoa shot and killed 42-year-old Keita O’Neil, who led police on a chase after allegedly carjacking a state lottery minivan. Body camera footage showed that Samayoa, a rookie cop who was in his fourth day of a field training program, fired his weapon through the glass window of the patrol car he was riding in, striking O’Neil as he ran by after jumping out of the van. Samayoa was fired and, almost three years later, charged with manslaughter and assault under Boudin's tenure.
The decision to charge Samayoa was historic. At the time, no San Francisco police officer had ever faced criminal charges for killing someone while on duty. During his time as district attorney, Boudin went on to file charges against other officers who shot people.
But after he was removed from office last year in a deeply contentious recall election, the case against Samayoa languished. Jenkins, who was ultimately elected to serve out Boudin's term in November, reassigned the prosecutor who had been handling the Samayoa case for two years and postponed the next hearing to December. Jenkins said her administration needed to reevaluate the case, but the extended delay made O'Neil's aunt April Green and others fearful that Jenkins would drop the charges after the election as payback to the San Francisco Police Officers Association — one of Boudin’s biggest detractors.
"This confirms every suspicion that Ms. Green had," Brian Ford, an attorney for Green, told BuzzFeed News Thursday. "It's everything that we believed becoming very real. ... Brooke Jenkins is more interested in protecting police and dirtying up and attacking Boudin than she is in seeking justice for the citizens of San Francisco."
The decision to dismiss the charges comes after Samayoa's attorneys filed a motion last month seeking an order for pretrial discovery after the district attorney's office provided them with recent interviews it conducted with investigators who previously worked on the case.
According to the filing, an investigator for the DA's office determined in 2018 that the case against Samayoa "was not prosecutable," and his conclusion was backed up by others in the office at the time. Samayoa's attorneys accused Boudin of "egregious prosecutorial misconduct" for withholding this information, arguing that the former district attorney did so "to promote his political platform to punish peace officers."
During a Jan. 27 hearing, Assistant District Attorney Darby Williams did not object to the motion or the defense's request to again delay Samayoa's preliminary hearing, the legal proceeding where a judge determines whether there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial. As a result, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Loretta M. Giorgi ultimately decided to continue the hearing to March 1.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Boudin called Jenkins's dismissal of the case "offensive" and "dishonest," as he accused her of coordinating with Samayoa's defense team.
"She is scapegoating me to try to divert attention from what this decision ultimately reveals about her: Jenkins will not hold everyone equally accountable under the law, she is deeply politically motivated, and she does not care about victims of police violence," Boudin said.
Now, Green told BuzzFeed News she is praying that the attorney general's office takes up the case. Before learning about Jenkins's decision, she and her lawyer sent their own letter asking that his office take on the case.
"We ask you to intervene now because San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and her Office are conflicted in the prosecution," the letter read, "and are presently betraying the public trust by failing to ensure that Samayoa is legally held accountable for crimes he committed while in uniform and under color of law."
Green said she wasn't surprised by Jenkins's decision, but the timing couldn't be worse. The 58-year-old Berkeley resident is the caretaker for her sister Judy O'Neil, who has dementia, and has been dealing with her own health issues recently. Next week, Green is having surgery to remove a 6-inch tumor that may be cancerous.
"I'm begging this man from my bed, as I speak to you, that he takes my nephew’s case and be my voice — not just my voice, but the voice of our Black and brown men that are being murdered by the San Francisco police," she said. "It's not just about my nephew. This is about the future of our Black and brown men and these officers being held accountable for unjustly murdering them. That’s what this is about."