The rookie San Francisco Police officer who shot and killed unarmed fleeing carjacking suspect Kieta O’Neil in Bayview-Hunters Point in December 2017 has been charged with manslaughter and other criminal violations, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced Monday.
The charges represent the first time in historical memory that a San Francisco officer was charged with homicide for a deadly police shooting.
Body camera footage from the Dec. 1, 2017, incident shows now-terminated officer Christopher Samayoa fire one gunshot through the passenger window of a police car as 42-year-old O’Neil ran past the car. The bullet struck O’Neil in the head and killed him.
O’Neil had allegedly led police on a car chase through the southeastern part of the city after he allegedly stole a California Lottery van. But when Samayoa and his partner Edric Talusan, a training officer, cornered O’Neil in a dead end in the Alice Griffith housing project, O’Neil appeared to be running away and not threatening Samayoa or his partner when Samayoa shot and killed O’Neil.
O’Neil was unarmed.
“There has been a long history of officer-involved shootings leading to no accountability whatsoever, further cementing the idea that police are above the law,” Boudin said on the steps of San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, at 850 Bryant St., on Monday afternoon. “That stops today.”
Monday morning, Boudin filed charges of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a semiautomatic firearm, assault by a police officer, and discharge of a firearm with gross negligence, against Samayoa.
“I want to emphasize that this case is at the very earliest stages,” Boudin said. “We only filed the charges in the arrest warrant earlier this morning here at the Hall of Justice. We expect that former officer Samayoa will surrender on those charges later this week.”
At present, no charges have been filed against Talusan, Samayoa’s training officer, who was driving the car that pursued O’Neil into the dead end, and in which Samaoya was a passenger.
While Chief Bill Scott unilaterally terminated Samayoa from his position only months after the incident, Talusan is facing a 40-day suspension that has yet to be decided by the San Francisco Police Commission, according to recent Department of Police Accountability records.
Talusan would be disciplined for “failure to supervise,” failure to properly activate his body camera, failure to follow “proper pursuit” policy, and failure to maintain radio contact. Although Boudin said he hasn’t filed charges against Talusan, he did not explicitly rule out the possibility.
Regardless, with Samayoa’s case alone, Boudin is in for a challenge. He will not have the benefit of the new state law AB 392, which took effect in January, 2020, and limits police to using deadly force only when objectively “necessary” instead of “reasonable.” In theory, the law makes it easier to prove a homicide case against a police officer.
Instead, Boudin must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an objectively reasonable officer would not have shot and killed O’Neil under the circumstances.
“The law is not retroactive,” Boudin said of AB 392. “It does make it more challenging.”
But, after an “exhaustive review of the facts of the case,” Boudin said he’s confident he will successfully prosecute Samayoa. “That is why we made the decision,” he said, “notwithstanding the very real obstacles that the law, prior to 2020, created to any and all accountability for officer use of force.”
Phelicia Jones, who founded the police accountability group Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community — Justice for Mario Woods, was pleased with Monday’s announcement.
“I’m happy to hear that DA Boudin is finally holding police officers accountable,” Jones said. “Even though [Samayoa] is an ex-police officer, I’m happy to see Boudin holding to his word and the platform that he ran on.”
But Jones said that charging one former police officer should not be seen as a suitable remedy to systemic policing issues. “When you look at the Black community, the community as a whole has been traumatized,” she said. “The impact these rogue cops have on the Black community is really deep.”
Boudin has other major police cases in front of him.
He must still decide whether to charge the officers who shot a mentally ill man, Sean Moore, on his own front staircase in January 2017 — even as the police remained at Moore’s house without legal justification. The 46-year-old Moore died in February of this year, and an autopsy revealed that he died from complications related to the gunshot wounds.
The young progressive prosecutor must also refile charges against the two Alameda Sheriff’s deputies who in November 2015 pursued a man into a Mission District alley and beat him relentlessly even as the man posed no threat.
Boudin had the charges dismissed in March following a series of apparent mishaps but has pledged to refile the case.