Suzy Loftus, Mayor Breed’s choice to lead DA office, faces hostile crowd — in audience and on stage
San Francisco District Attorney candidate Suzy Loftus received little applause following her opening remarks Monday night at Mission High School from an audience of around 250 people. The meager support she did have came from a small cadre of her ardent supporters.
The panel at Mission High was the first time the four district attorney candidates took the stage since Mayor London Breed on Friday appointed Loftus to become interim DA following George Gascón’s departure on Oct. 18. The appointment followed Gascón’s abrupt announcement that he would be stepping down this month to weigh a run for Los Angeles District Attorney, upending the race to succeed him in the process.
This was a forum hosted by Free SF, which was intended to focus on immigration and immigrants’ rights. All four candidates tended to agree on diverting immigrants away from the criminal justice system, and on sanctuary city laws and police accountability.
But Loftus’s opponents made no secret of their disdain for her recent ascension.
“All I can say is, I hope the cases that Ms. Loftus prosecutes are fairer than the elections she’s running in this race,” said candidate Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender.
Candidate Leif Dautch, a California deputy attorney general, said that voters were excited about having the first DA election in 110 years without an incumbent.
“That’s been stolen from them,” Dautch said. “The fair and right and just thing to do for the voters of San Francisco would be to wait and see who wins on Nov. 5 … and then appoint whoever wins the free and fair election.”
Candidate Nancy Tung, currently an assistant Alameda County district attorney, said that she’s run her campaign on “experience and independence.”
“And by the mayor’s appointment of Suzy Loftus to the district attorney position 18 days before the election, we’ve seen what political implications can have on the District Attorney’s office,” she said. “And what do we need in a District Attorney’s office? We need independence.”
Tung, far and away the most traditionally conservative candidate in the race, earned some jeers for her positions on wanting to keep San Francisco Juvenile Hall open, where the other candidates supported closing it down. But this was, clearly, not a sympathetic audience for Suzy Loftus.
She, at times, smiled awkwardly and looked off into the distance. During her responses, she sometimes found herself competing over audience members screaming, “Shame, shame, shame!”
“The voters will decide who San Francisco’s next district attorney is on Nov. 5,” she said. “When an unexpected thing happens and [Gascón] vacated his post unexpectedly — and the mayor asks me to serve the city where I rode Muni to my public school and I’m raising my babies — I’m gonna say ‘yes.’”
She then took a shot at her predecessor. “There are more than 40 lawyers that have left in the last year and a half,” she said. “The instability in that office is something that needs to be addressed.”
But, regardless of last week’s unusual turn of events, Loftus likely wouldn’t have been the crowd favorite Monday night anyway. Her political support from former San Francisco Police Department Chief Greg Suhr, who was forced to resign following a string of controversial police shootings, has led to ire from Mission District activists — some of whom helped hound Suhr out of office in 2016.
A small group of audience members held up signs every time Loftus answered a question. They read: “Suzy Loftus, You murdered Luis Gongora Pat.” And so on, with the names of other police shooting victims.
But Loftus pointed out that under her leadership as the president of the Police Commission, she oversaw the implementation of the SFPD’s new use-of-force policy, which has had a hand in reducing officer use of force some 30 percent since it went into effect in 2016. The policy, she said, inspired AB 392, a sweeping state law aimed at limiting when police can use deadly force.
“And now, based on our work together, and the demand this community made for real change — we changed it and we have a new standard under the law,” she said. “And if someone commits murder in San Francisco, I will charge them.”
But the other candidates were equally firm in their commitment to be more aggressive in dealing with officers who shoot people.
“Yes,” Boudin said simply, when Maria Gutierrez, a police accountability activist, asked whether the candidates were prepared to charge officers involved in shootings. “Your family gets justice the day I take office,” he said to the family of Jesus Delgado Duarte, an armed 19-year-old who police shot and killed after he fired on officers on Capp Street in March 2018.
Dautch said Gascon’s previous role as police chief created an “inherent conflict of interest” and he is “someone who the community did not trust.”
“And replacing him with someone who just had a fundraiser hosted by Greg Suhr is not the answer,” he said, a shot at Loftus. “We need someone who has not been in charge of running the police department for the last decade — someone who can be a prosecutor, objectively evaluate the evidence, and hold people accountable.”
Tung said she was the only candidate to have prosecuted police officers. “I have no problem kicking out cops or prosecuting them when they committed misconduct,” she said. “If a cop has committed murder, I will charge that cop for murder.”
Tung later told Mission Local that she was one of the San Francisco prosecutors to prosecute Richard Soares, an SFPD officer who faced charges of domestic violence and nine counts of violating a protective order. He was cleared of the domestic violence charges, but convicted of violating the order and sentenced to 27 days in a work program. He was fired from the SFPD, according to Tung.
Moreover, as a San Francisco assistant DA, Tung won a conviction against former Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Lewelling in October 2015 for assault a homeless man in a San Francisco General Hospital waiting room. A state appeals court overturned the felony conviction in October 2017.
She reiterated at Monday’s debate: “It is important we have an independent district attorney’s office.”