Manny Yekutiel interviewing Police Chief Bill Scott and District Attorney Chesa Boudin on June 16, 2020.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott declined to say why he recommended no disciplinary action for the officer who shot and killed Jessica Williams in 2016. Nevertheless, he told the audience watching a livestream interview Tuesday night that transparency would be the key to holding police accountable in the future.

Scott was interviewed alongside District Attorney Chesa Boudin by Manny Yekutiel, owner of Manny’s at 16th and Valencia, in the first of what the café hopes will be a series of events livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. The three men appeared together on camera, physically distanced and wearing facemasks.

Last week, a Mission Local story revealed that the Department of Police Accountability’s investigation originally recommended that the officer who shot Jessica Williams be terminated, but that Scott recommended no disciplinary action. The officer was ultimately suspended for 45 days in a settlement negotiated between the police department, the DPA, and the officer’s attorneys – and approved in a split vote by the Police Commission.

“It just seems like, oftentimes when something really bad happens, the punishment that’s meted out to a police officer is a lot smaller — or disproportionately smaller — than you might expect,” Yekutiel told Scott. “What happened resulted in a woman’s life being lost, and he got 45 days [suspended], no pay.”

“Transparency is a huge step towards accountability,” Scott replied, and cited SB 1421, the California law passed in 2018 that allowed misconduct records to be released through public records requests.

“When Miss Williams lost her life at the hands of San Francisco police ­— this department, my department — that law didn’t exist,” Scott said. “I won’t sit here and say decisions would have been different because of that, but what I will say is when there’s transparency, with that comes accountability. Because the public gets to see all of the facts and the public gets to make its own judgement on whether that decision was right or not right.”

Scott said that before SB 1421, disciplinary decisions were made behind closed doors, but that now all of the information was available for the public to review.

But Yekutiel pushed back.

“Why does the punishment seem so light, when something as grave as a death happened?” he asked.

“Because a life was lost. That is in and of itself shocking,” Scott said, and encouraged everyone to read the case before coming to a conclusion.

“A lot of the procedural issues brought up in that case were part of the issue. The death itself is a separate adjudication from a lot of the other things that this 45-day punishment was based on,” Scott added. “I would invite people to read the case.”

The full case is not currently available to the public, but Mission Local has uploaded portions of the 1,763-page document obtained from the DPA through a public records request. Uploading the entire document was impractical due to the 1.5 gigabyte file size. You can read the first part of the document here, along with the minutes of the Police Commission meeting in September 2019.

Unfortunately, it was at that point when Manny’s experienced some technical difficulties and the livestream was frozen for everyone watching on both Facebook and YouTube. The broadcast resumed some 15 minutes later, but the conversation had moved on to other topics.

Manny’s staff told Mission Local that the entire interview was recorded and will be made available in its entirety in the near future.

Earlier in the interview, Boudin and Scott talked about what an idealized world might look like if policing were completely reimagined in the wake of the defund movement.

“In an ideal world, honestly, I think we’d live in a society where we don’t need police,” Boudin said. “Where we would respect each other’s rights and rules and regulations, and we wouldn’t have to have other people to do that. And that’s not real. That’s not the real world I expect I’ll ever live in.”

Short of that, he said, he would like to live in a world where police didn’t carry firearms. But that, too, wasn’t immediately realistic.

“To get there, we need to make sure that guns are off the streets, and the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment and the National Rifle Association make it really difficult,” he said. How am I going to talk to Chief Scott and talk about your officers not carrying guns when we know how many guns are on the streets of San Francisco? That’s not real, either.”

For his part, Scott said he imagined a world that had more collaboration between government services.

“We have departments that do great work. Where sometimes I think we fall short is collaboration,” he said. “Our role (as police) in society was really the prevention of crime, the absence of crime, not reacting to crime when crime occurs — but in order for that to happen … communities need to be healthier, and stronger, and more resilient. It touches on a lot of other social issues.”

Scott also talked about how he saw his role as an African American police chief in the midst of the social movement unfolding since George Floyd was killed by police on May 25 in Minneapolis.

“I think my role is to be a leader,” he said. “And in doing that, my background and experience … brings the perspective of a Black man in America.”

Scott described growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1970s, where his family moved to a white neighborhood and was the first Black family on the block.

“We moved to a very segregated and racist place,” he said. “I remember this vividly, overnight, for sale signs up and down the block. I didn’t know what it meant then, but as I grew older I knew what it meant.”

Scott also talked about his experiences being pulled over by police in Alabama as a young man in college.

“I remember him repeatedly call me ‘boy,’” Scott said. “In the south, calling a grown Black man a boy meant something. It meant that you were less than, that you weren’t equal to.”

“To this day, I remember how that made me feel,” he said.

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Michael Toren

Michael Toren is a reporter in San Francisco. He can be reached at michael.toren@gmail.com

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7 Comments

  1. I have never read answers so transparently opaque as Scott’s reply to questions about the Williams killing. I suspect we will get a lot of this kind of word play in the weeks and months to come as the SFPD does its best to deceive, obscure and maintain its grip on power. Like the word “boy”, the word “transparency” means something, and it’s not “accountability”. If Scott wants to be a leader, he can start by not being a misleader.

  2. Campers,

    Recall when Breed fought to keep both her positions
    as Prez of Board and also Acting Mayor?

    It occurred to me that had she succeeded, she’d have
    been able to appoint not only ALL of the members of
    the Police Commission but also other bodies.

    How many people on present Police Commission were
    appointed by London?

    h.

  3. Well, I read the report. Chief Scott implying that if I were to read the report, I would understand why a 45 day suspension instead of a harsher sentence was applied. Well, I wish missionlocal had called his bluff, but it didn’t, so here I am commenting for the first time. I read the report. I see no reason why only a 45 day ‘punishment’ was delivered.the officer should have been fired, at the very least. End of discussion. But nice try… This is why accountability transparency And reform will only get us so far. We can’t let this movement die, stay in these streets people!!!

    1. Hey there — 

      Considering this was a remote event with its own moderator, Mission Local is not capable of calling the chief’s bluff in real time.

      With that said, I urge you to re-read the very first paragraph of this story and think on that.

      JE

      1. Hey joe, I love yr reporting, I didn’t mean in real time – I meant in its coverage of this broadcast. Immediately after leaving my comment, it occurred to me that this is not an op ed, and therefore not the place for meta-commentary, therefore, on the one hand I take back that part of my comment upon reflection.

        1. J. — 

          I appreciate the kind words. You’re right that this is a straight-ahead news article and cannot play by the same rules as a reported column or op-ed. But a skillful writer — and my colleagues are all good — can certainly make the points he or she wishes to make. Being fair and disinterested doesn’t mean ignoring something that’s obviously occurring or presenting false equivalencies.

          Best,

          JE

          1. Joe,

            Thanks for talking to us personally.

            It means lots to regular readers and probably a shock to newbies.

            I’d like to shame regulars to set up a monthly donation.

            I give .70 cents a day which is 21.17 a month and I’m poor.

            Makes me puff my chest out.

            lol

            h.

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