One week after police chief Bill Scott abruptly dissolved an agreement between the District Attorney’s office and the San Francisco Police Department, the Police Commission yesterday grilled him over his decision and insisted that he resolve the issues with the DA before it expires.
The widely anticipated meeting came after two weeks of escalating tensions between the SFPD and the DA’s office, both of which now accuse the other of violating a memorandum of understanding making the DA the lead investigator in police violence cases.
Without intervention, the agreement will lapse by mid-month. But the commission, in a meeting that stretched to more than six hours, appeared inclined to compel Scott to reverse his decision.
Scott told the commission on Wednesday night, in a lengthy monologue, that the DA’s investigation had “caused an immediate loss of trust,” so he was siding with his officers that had lost faith in the DA’s office. He stood by his decision, and detailed several additional alleged violations by the DA’s office, all the while insisting that he is still committed to police reform and accountability.
The commissioners were neither impressed nor happy.
“You can’t just go to the extreme measures and pull out without a backup plan, especially when you’re sitting here telling us that you believe in reform,” Commissioner Cindy Elias shot back, calling the chief’s decision to withdraw from the agreement without consulting the commission “disturbing and disheartening.”
Scott first announced his intention to terminate the agreement last week, in response to recent testimony accusing the DA’s office of regularly withholding information from the SFPD and violating an agreement between the two bodies. He did so via a press release, blindsiding both the DA and the police commission, his civilian oversight body.
In calmer tones than last week’s meeting, commissioners took turns and different tacks lecturing and chastising the chief. They pushed for him to make good with the DA’s office, communicate about any issues, and come to an understanding, even if that meant writing a new MOU.
Scott, as one public commenter put it, seemingly took on the role of a “petulant child.”
When Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone asked Scott why he would pull out of the agreement with no backup plan, Scott skirted around the question.
When Commissioner John Hamasaki told Scott that he liked him, but was now questioning the chief’s judgment, Scott responded with snark: “Would you like me to respond to that, or was there a question? Or am I just listening?”
Scott later added that he didn’t care about being liked, and was simply doing his job, listening to the feedback from his rank and file.
At times, Scott expressed commitment to doing whatever it takes, working with whoever to come to a resolution and to “address the issue head-on.”
But commissioners noted that Scott’s recent unilateral moves, announcements to the press, and lack of communication with the commission or the DA all contradicted this sentiment. Commissioner Jesus Gabriel Yanez called it a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Elias said that the commission “constantly” follows up with the SFPD to acquire requested documents in a timely manner, but doesn’t resort to drastic measures like the chief did last week.
While Scott has suggested that the state Attorney General’s office could assume the lead investigatory role in SFPD use-of-force cases, a brief Feb. 9 letter from AG Rob Bonta urges the SFPD and DA to work out their issues, and makes utterly no commitment to take on additional investigation duties.
DA Chesa Boudin, who still denies any misconduct by his office and claims the SFPD itself has violated the agreement, argued in a letter on Tuesday that a “good-faith conversation” could resolve any potential issues.
Scott and Boudin had a private conversation earlier Wednesday afternoon, and plan to continue at a later date. Boudin, who called into the police commission amid a sea of public commenters that spoke until midnight, described the meeting as productive. He also took the opportunity to rebuke the chief’s move, calling it a “massive violation of public trust and a huge step backwards.”
Whatever happens between the chief and the DA in the coming weeks, the commission seemed determined to prevent the MOU from lapsing.
“We’re in a position where we either have to order you — which is not what anybody here wants to do — or you’re going to have to come back into the fold and work together with everybody,” said Hamasaki.
The topic will be revisited at next week’s commission meeting. The MOU could expire by Feb. 17 without intervention.
This publicized controversy riling up the city stems from a Jan. 27 pre-trial hearing in the case of SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel, who’s currently on trial for beating Dacari Spiers with a baton in 2019. DA investigator Magen Hayashi testified that she was pressured to conceal exculpatory evidence from the police in that investigation, and insinuated an ongoing practice of such concealment exists at the DA’s office.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa M. Caffese ruled that no relevant or exculpatory evidence had been withheld, and earlier this week denied defense attorneys’ request to throw out the case.
Stangel’s trial is believed to be the first in which an on-duty San Francisco police officer has been charged for use of force. Hayashi’s allegations came amid efforts to derail DA Boudin’s attempt to hold an officer accountable for excessive force, and discredit him ahead of his recall election.
Scott’s unilateral move to dump the MOU arrived on the heels of highly public criticism from officers that SFPD leadership and Scott particularly do not support them, with the Stangel case as a prime example. The day after his move, a police union meeting at which a potential no-confidence vote for Scott was to be held, was abruptly canceled.
On Wednesday, Scott repeatedly denied any ulterior motive for his actions.