After the San Francisco Police Department suddenly withdrew yesterday from an agreement assigning the District Attorney as the lead investigator into police use-of-force incidents, District Attorney Chesa Boudin decried the move today, saying the agreement promoted accountability, and its loss would undo progress in curbing police violence.
“We know that police cannot police themselves,” Boudin said during a press conference at the DA’s office. “Years of police violence before the [memorandum of understanding] have made clear how urgently needed this agreement was, to simply ensure that police officers will be independently investigated and held accountable when they violate the law.”
The memorandum of understanding between the SFPD and the DA’s office was reached in 2019, after a series of police killings shook San Francisco between 2014 and 2018. Ending it, Boudin said, would disproportionately hurt the communities of color that are typically impacted by police violence.
It could also mean that the DA would no longer receive notification when the police shoot or kill someone, and that the SFPD may refuse to cooperate with the DA in facilitating access to crime scenes or witnesses.
In a letter to the DA Wednesday, Police Chief Bill Scott cited recent allegations made by a DA investigator as his reasoning for terminating the agreement. During a court hearing last week, investigator Magen Hayashi said that she was pressured to withhold exculpatory evidence in the case of SFPD officer Terrance Stangel, who beat Dacari Spiers near Fisherman’s Wharf in 2019.
Court transcripts show San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa Caffese asked several times for clarification on what evidence was exculpatory, but Hayashi did not provide sufficient details to satisfy her. Caffese stated that she felt the information in question was not exculpatory; it would not have exonerated Stengel, nor changed the defense’s approach. The trial is set to begin Monday.
Boudin and others involved in the trial are under a gag order and cannot comment directly on the case, but the DA was firm today: “There is not one iota of evidence of misconduct under my administration,” he said. “To the extent there were problems with communication, they predated my tenure.”
Boudin said he has not yet spoken with Scott, but intends to do so to “walk through the timeline” and resolve any issues. He appeared confident that no evidence would surface to corroborate any allegations of dishonesty during his tenure.
And, when the SFPD violated the agreement on various occasions in the past, Boudin said, he and the chief have worked it out. When asked, Boudin said the agreement could “absolutely” be salvaged.
“I’m confident that he will see that this team, under my leadership, has done things by the book and that there’s been no prejudice to any investigation,” Boudin said. In any case, he said his office is looking into Hayashi’s claims, and will hold any employee accountable who acted improperly.
“I want to be really clear: It was working,” Boudin said of the agreement. “I have to say one thing that continues to puzzle me … is why this success would not be embraced by all parties, by the police chief, by the police union, by the communities that benefited from it.”
He noted that police killings had decreased in the years after the memorandum of understanding was reached, with no deaths in 2019, and one each in 2020 and 2021.
Ending the agreement could bring San Francisco “back to the days when the police beat or killed people, most often Black or Brown people, only to investigate themselves and declare that nothing was done wrong,” said Yoel Haile, Director of the Criminal Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California, who also spoke during Thursday’s press conference.
The timing of the allegations from Hayashi have raised questions about whether they were intentionally made during the first time an on-duty San Francisco police officer has faced trial for violence on a civilian, and whether they are part of a larger effort to discredit Boudin before the recall election he faces in June.
“It is a common tactic of defense lawyers to try and distract juries from bad facts,” Boudin said.
During the Police Commission meeting Wednesday evening, a livid Commissioner John Hamasaki accused Scott of ending the MOU in an attempt to poison the jury, before which opening statements will be made on Monday.
The DA also called on families of victims of police violence to speak during the press conference.
“This is the first time in the history of San Francisco that we have a district attorney who truly speaks for families who are at an economic and social disadvantage,” said April Green, the aunt of Keita O’Neil, who was shot dead following a police chase in 2017. A civil case with O’Neil’s family was settled for $2.5 million in late 2021, and the officer involved was criminally charged by the DA.
“This is the first time that officers who abuse the law are held to equal accountability for their actions.”
The SFPD and the DA’s office must meet within five business days of Scott’s Wednesday announcement to potentially reach a resolution, before the agreement is officially terminated in 15 days.
UPDATE: SFPD spokesperson Matt Dorsey said this afternoon, in response to the DA’s press conference, that Chief Scott “stands by the rightness of his decision to terminate the agreement.”
The DA’s office “remains in violation of its MOU with us at this time,” Dorsey wrote in a statement. “It has failed to respond to multiple requests from SFPD investigators to take part in ancillary criminal investigations, as the MOU requires.”
But the correspondence Dorsey referenced, which he attached to his statement, includes only one request, dated last week. It begins with a Jan. 25 letter from SFPD Captain Mark Cota, requesting Hayashi’s investigatory file including a copy of the 2019 witness interview she allegedly conducted without the SFPD’s knowledge.
The DA’s office responds the next day, asking for more time. Cota, in a follow-up email, says that the department plans to reopen its case against Dacari Spiers, referring to him as a “violent malefactor.” No other unanswered requests are included.