A federal judge on Monday cleared the path for an SFPD officer who in 2017 shot Keita O’Neil, an unarmed Black carjacking suspect, to face a civil trial before a jury.
At a July 2 hearing, attorneys for O’Neil’s mother and the city both argued for their motions for summary judgment, but U.S. District Court Judge Joseph C. Spero decided otherwise. Instead, former officer Christopher Samayoa, who shot O’Neil, may now face a jury trial. A trial date has not yet been confirmed.
Samayoa, who grew up in the Mission District, was only four days into his career with the police department. He was dismissed from the SFPD by Chief Bill Scott in March, 2018, several months after the shooting.
Although Samayoa fired the shot, O’Neil’s mother, Judy O’Neil, brought the civil case against both Samayoa and Talusan. The older officer, who was driving the vehicle, is accused in the civil proceeding of failing to properly rein in his inexperienced partner. Claims against his training officer, Officer Edric Talusan, have been dismissed by the court.
This comes in addition to a pending criminal prosecution of Samayoa. In November, 2020, District Attorney Chesa Boudin filed manslaughter charges against Samayoa, the first time a San Francisco police officer has faced criminal charges for an on-the-job shooting. The criminal case is pending and awaiting a preliminary hearing date, a spokesperson for the DA’s office said.
After O’Neil had allegedly stolen a California State Lottery minivan on Dec. 1, 2017, training officer Edric Talusan, and rookie officer Christopher Samayoa engaged in pursuit of the van in the Bayview District. After a brief chase, O’Neil jumped out of the stolen van and ran past the officers’ squad car. Samayoa then fired a single shot through his own windshield, killing O’Neil instantly.
Even though Samayoa only proactively turned on his body-mounted camera after firing his gun, the shooting was caught on camera, as the bodycams begin recording prior to activation. Aside from the video footage, the only direct witness testimony of the incident comes from Talusan. Samayoa has invoked the Fifth Amendment, and has not presented his side in any of the legal proceedings over the past three-and-a-half years.
According to Talusan’s court testimony, he and Samayoa had just begun their shift for the day when a radio call came in about the carjacking. Though Talusan first intended to take Samayoa out to take a report from the carjacking victim, they changed course while en route and ended up pursuing O’Neil in the stolen van. In his deposition, Talusan said he did not recall whether he informed Samayoa of the change in plans.
However, while Talusan states that his and Samayoa’s shift was supposed to begin at 11 a.m., court records show that the dispatch radio call came in at around 10:30 a.m., and Talusan called Samayoa to go out before they were even supposed to be on duty. In his testimony, Talusan referred to it as a “great training experience” for Samayoa.
“[Talusan] didn’t exercise good supervision over the trainee,” said Adante Pointer, an attorney representing Judy O’Neil. “When you saw him pull out his gun, why didn’t you stop him then? Or find out what was going on? That should have been something that should have caught your eye, in our opinion.”
Talusan said in his testimony that he did not believe deadly force was permissible when O’Neil was running towards him, but also claimed to not have seen Samayoa pull out his weapon. After the shooting, Talusan took Samayoa’s gun from him.
“Just based upon the uncontroverted, undisputed evidence, this was wrong,” Pointer said of the decision to file for partial summary judgment. And, although he didn’t believe the case needed to go before a jury, Pointer said that “if a jury were to look at this and consider all the evidence, that they would feel the same way we feel, which is that this was just totally unnecessary use of deadly force. And, this is a life that should not have been taken.”
The city had also filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming Samayoa’s use of force was reasonable, that Talusan had no opportunity to intervene, and that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity. Part of their motion was denied, while other parts were granted, including a dismissal of the claims against Talusan.
The City Attorney’s office declined to provide any comment.
The judge also ruled in favor of O’Neil in her motion to exclude the city’s expert witness, former parole officer Michael Pickett. Pickett provided testimony about O’Neil’s behavior in previous prison sentences, but the judge ruled that Pickett, who hadn’t worked as a correctional officer since 1977, is “unqualified to offer any expert opinion as to what transpired on the day of the shooting.”
Correction: Although the civil case was brought against both Samayoa and his training officer Edric Talusan, Mission Local has learned that all claims against Talusan have been dropped. This story has been updated to reflect this.