San Francisco’s DA drops charges against former officer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said she plans to drop manslaughter charges against a former police officer who became the first ever to be charged for an on-duty killing in the city because the charges were politically motivated.

Jenkins said in a letter sent Wednesday to Attorney General Rob Bonta that she intends to drop the charges against San Francisco police officer Christopher Samayoa at a March 1 hearing.

Samayoa was on his fourth day on the job when in 2017 he fatally shot Keita O’Neil, a carjacking suspect, during a police chase.

Chesa Boudin, Jenkins’ predecessor, charged Samayoa with manslaughter and other charges after he took office in 2020, calling his decision “historic.” Boudin was part of a politically progressive wave of prosecutors committed to seeking restorative justice over mass incarceration. He was recalled from his post last year amid frustration and anxiety over the pandemic and viral footage of Asian seniors being assaulted in San Francisco.

In the letter obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, Jenkins said that an investigation into the Boudin’s handling of the case revealed internal conflicts. She said the charges were filed just before the statute of limitations for manslaughter was to expire and the warrant was signed by an investigator who had been assigned to the case days earlier — while the longtime lead investigator was on vacation.

“The irregularities and facts that have come to light surrounding the case against officer Samayoa suggest that the charges were not filed in good faith, appear to have been politically-motivated, and have made it impossible for us to proceed forward with this prosecution,” Jenkins said in a statement Friday.

Boudin didn’t immediately return a message Friday seeking comment. He told the San Francisco Chronicle he filed the case on the facts, which he said also led the Police Department to fire Samayoa and the city to pay O’Neil’s family a $2.5 million settlement.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Jenkins said that her office has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to review the case in support of O’Neil’s family’s wishes.

The office on Friday confirmed it received the request and is reviewing it.

O’Neil, who died at a hospital, was suspected of assaulting a California Lottery employee and stealing a van that belonged to the agency. Police said they chased the van and another SUV seen traveling with it to a public housing area. O’Neil abandoned the stolen vehicle and started running toward the patrol car occupied by Samayoa, who was in the passenger seat, and his training officer.

Body camera footage shows Samayoa drawing his pistol while the cruiser was still moving. The video then shows him opening the side door and firing a single shot through the window as O’Neil runs by in the opposite direction. O’Neil, who died later at a hospital, was not armed.

An attorney for O’Neil’s family, Brian Ford, called Jenkins’ decision to drop the charges “shameful and cowardly.”

“She is more interested in protecting murderous cops and attacking Boudin than in seeking justice for the citizens of San Francisco,” Ford told the newspaper. “But it means that Attorney General Rob Bonta has all the more duty to investigate and take up the prosecution of Christopher Samayoa for the murder of Keita O’Neil.”

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