District Attorney Chesa Boudin held a press conference on Feb. 3. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan.

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.

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. This DA just seems so incompetent. It’s such a shame because his ideas are actually good. Too bad his incompetence will keep progressive ideas a bad names

    1. Joe & Eleni,

      Are you going to allow this kind of straight-up ad hominem attacks on Boudin?

      This is ridiculous.

      Anonymous no less.

      Seriously, these people are billionaires and don’t need an extra edge.

      The rest of us all added something substantive to the discussion, this is just slander.

      h.

  2. Boudin’s administration is not being transparent as illustrated in the court proceedings. This concealment of exculpatory evidence happened on his watch. Boudin is also fanning the flames of fear. ALL police involved shootings are investigated by entities outside of the police Dept, even without this agreement. EVERY police involved shooting is investigated by the DAs office, DPA, amongst others. In addition, The Chief said in his letter that he would consult with the DOJ to see if they can step in the place of the less than transparent SFDA’s office. This agreement between the SFPD and DAs office, as noted in the agreement, can be terminated at any time for any reason by either of the involved agencies. As usual, I don’t expect you to publish my comment since it doesn’t fit your narrative.

    1. There was no concealment of exculpatory evidence. Mission Local didn’t say that. The judge said it. Get your narrative straight. Investigations by the police of police shootings before the Great Reform were monuments to bureaucratic buffoonery. Investigations, which according to the SFPD’s own policy at the time were to take 45 to 60 days dragged on for up to two years and more. Between 2014 and 2017, of five police shootings, only one had been investigated. It was so bad that the State empowered a Civil Grand Jury to investigate the investigations and found severe problems in both timeliness and transparency. After the Grand Jury report, a Blue Ribbon Commission and a Collaborative Technical Report with Obama’s DOJ released scathing indictments of police investigations of police shootings, resulting in The Great Reform which Scott has just dismissed as another pile of garbage that DPW will never clean up. If you’re interested I wrote an article in Mission Local about the Grand Jury report and the state of SF police investigations in 2017 after the tragically absurd “investigation” of the killing of Amilcar Perez-Lopez. https://missionlocal.org/2017/04/perez-lopez-and-the-sf-way-of-investigation/

    2. When pressed for specifics, Magen Hayashi couldn’t provide sufficient details about evidence that was allegedly withheld. Let’s be generous and say there probably would have been better hooks for Scott to hang his hat on. And of course Boudin now tries to turn the tables and use this as the basis to help balance is narrative.

    3. Hey Wamcob,

      DA’s office did not refuse to release ANY ‘exculpatory evidence’.

      That’s what was proven in court.

      When Judge Caffese called upon Investigator Hayashi (is she related to Chris Hayashi from Herrera’s ofc. and Taxi fame?)

      When Caffese ordered Hayashi to give her the single case she claimed she had, she could NOT do it.

      Judge tossed the claim as unsubstantiated by the facts and I hope to see you at the trial on Monday.

      Go Giants!

      h.

  3. “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.”
    By this, you’re suggesting that an investigator from Boudin’s office actually lied under oath in court as part of a “larger effort?” It’s interesting that you give no credence to her as a whistleblower, but no surprise, given Mission Loco’s coverage, which consistently favors Boudin.

    1. Read the article. The judge gave no credence to her. The same stuff happened in Philadelphia after the election of Lawrence Krasner. another reformist DA. And if you don’t think this is part of a “larger effort” (including the POA and the “City Family”) to get rid of a truly reformist DA (instead of a con man like Gascon), you must be very new to SF.

  4. Assuming Bill Scott (like the POA) prefers the outcome of the recall to be the decommissioning of Boudin as DA – he just threw an interception Boudin’s way.
    Not leaning one way or the other, this has me rhetorically wondering: Why we can’t seem to get officials with at least half a brain?