Brooke Jenkins, the disgruntled former prosecutor who quit Chesa Boudin’s office to become the face of the recall, has been tabbed by Mayor London Breed to be the next District Attorney.
It is a bold and combustible move from the mayor; of the names on Breed’s list, Jenkins is surely the riskiest choice.
In Jenkins, 40, the mayor has elevated a smart, tough and outspoken prosecutor who even former legal adversaries — who were deeply disturbed by this choice — described as talented and formidable. Jenkins is both Black and Latina (but is not San Francisco’s first Black female DA; you’ll recall Vice President Kamala Harris). She is a telegenic presence who, demonstrably in her role as the recall’s figurehead, can broadly make her case to the people. In this, she’s a marked contrast from her employer-turned-target Boudin, who excelled in small or one-on-one situations, but often struggled to explain his policies and politics in the media.
And Jenkins’ professed politics and policies align with the mayor’s. Jenkins has called for, if not a rolling back, an easing of the brakes on some of the reformist policies enacted or approved by Boudin: The wholesale elimination of cash bail; abandoning the use of “strikes” to enhance penalties; gang enhancements; or the charging of minors as adults. These are the sorts of things Breed would seem to favor in remedying “the bullshit that has destroyed our city.”
So, those are the positives for the mayor. And nobody knows how Jenkins will perform in the office, because she has never done this job before. In fact, as one longtime former prosecutor put it, she’s “never managed anything more than an intern.”
And that leads to the risky aspects of this appointment. The signature-gathering drive to oust Boudin was, in large part, fueled by viral videos and anecdotal tales of a crime wave that were belied by the city’s actual crime statistics. But the accusations that Boudin was an inexperienced leader who had not adequately managed the staff and the nuts-and-bolts elements of the office — well, let’s put it this way: Not even some folks campaigning for him would belie that (some do, vociferously).
Within the DA’s office, Jenkins was seen as a talented up-and-comer, but not yet one of the star attorneys. She has not served in a management role. So the replacement of a young, first-time manager with a young, first-time manager does raise questions.
As do specific aspects of Jenkins’ personality and her route to this job. Erstwhile legal opponents, even ones who praised her gumption and skill, said she had a tendency to make things personal. And her position as the figurehead of the recall portends a potential bloodletting at the DA’s office. And, inescapably, there is an odiousness in naming a key recall figure as the next DA; it gives off more than a whiff of political deal-making and angling for an appointment.
Nobody would argue in favor of politicizing the District Attorney’s office. Certainly, the mayor’s office wouldn’t claim it’s doing this now (My specific questions to the mayor’s office were answered with a rote, monotone repetition of the phrase “Brooke Jenkins will be a great DA”). But arguing you’re not politicizing the DA’s office when you install the public-facing spokeswoman for the recall as the new DA seems like an almost parodic scenario; it’s the kind of case that calls for the counsel of Nathan Thurm.
And that would be the case even if Jenkins hadn’t made a litany of broad claims against her former boss that were on the far end of credible, even for heated campaign rhetoric, let alone for a sitting DA expected to take the reins of a large and consequential city department.
Jenkins has never run for political office. She has never fund-raised in the manner befitting a candidate for citywide office. And she has only been registered to vote in San Francisco since November 2021, one month after she left the DA’s office. She previously resided in Union City.
The powers-that-be in City Hall have, in the very recent past, told me that deep city roots are necessary to lead significant departments here; you wouldn’t want someone who “wouldn’t have known 28th Street from 28th Avenue.”
Apparently that ethos was malleable.
Apropos of that, it is difficult to know exactly what Jenkins’ ethos is. Before she became Boudin’s harshest and most visible critic in 2021, she was, in 2020, singing his praises.
In emails previously excerpted in the Chronicle, she, in July, 2020, wrote to Boudin that she’s “been nothing but pleased with what you’ve accomplished so far. I commend the work you’ve done and believe it will greatly impact the criminal justice system here in San Francisco.” In September of that year, she wrote Boudin “I love this!” regarding his formation of a post-conviction unit and innocence commission. “I literally had planned to speak to whoever was elected about creating something like this. … Thank you!!!!”
Boudin, in August, 2020, rebuked the California District Attorneys Association for attempting to pressure the National Football League into withdrawing a public service announcement featuring the family of Stephon Clark, who was shot dead by Sacramento Police. Jenkins wrote to him “When I see things like this, I remember why I am so proud to be a part of this office. Thank you for all that you are doing.”
Boudin’s defenders point to this as proof Jenkins is an opportunist. That’s their interpretation of things. What’s not up for debate is that things certainly worked out well for Jenkins.
The breaking point for the former DA and his successor was ostensibly the murder trial of Daniel Gudino, who, in 2020, horrifically slaughtered his own mother.
Jenkins successfully argued the murder case. But the jury deadlocked 7-5 on the question of whether Gudino was sane or not, with the majority finding that he was not sane.
While Jenkins wanted to take another shot at putting Gudino in prison, Boudin accepted an insanity plea that resulted in Gudino being incarcerated in a locked mental hospital instead. Jenkins came out swinging: She quit Boudin’s office, and argued that leniency in cases like these was imperiling San Franciscans.
Well, that’s one way of looking at things. Another is: Three different experts testified that Gudino was severely mentally ill. He said he thought his mother was a clone and not a person; he was nude and spattered in blood when authorities found him. By that point, he had mutilated his mother’s corpse and lit her ablaze; his public defender described him as “on the porch screaming about demons and throwing charcoal at the neighbors.”
While Gudino’s stepfather wasn’t in favor of his insanity plea, other members of his family, including his father, were. Again and again we’re told that District Attorneys must listen to victims. Unless, it seems, victims want fewer carceral outcomes instead of more.
So this is a terrible and complicated case. And a concerning one. With all due respect, it is very hard not to argue that Gudino was deeply insane. And, over the objections of some (but not all) of his family members, Jenkins was determined to put him into prison.
And this situation came up in an earlier case, too. In 2019, Jenkins was unsuccessful in convincing a jury that a man named Antonio Carter-Bibbs molested his stepdaughter. This, too, is a strange and terrible case. But it took a turn for the bizarre when a Public Defender investigator, who just happened to be in the courtroom to take in the proceedings, said he grew concerned by Jenkins’ behavior in the hallway.
Reached on July 7, that investigator told Mission Local that he saw, and filmed, Jenkins telling the four-year-old alleged victim “Say that! Say that! That’s what you need to say.”
His video was turned over to the defense and became an exhibit. He testified in open court. We are not using his name because, as he put it, “I still have a job to do, and it would be harder if I’m a pariah with the DA’s office.” But the subject matter of his sworn testimony is not in question. Nor is the outcome: Carter-Bibbs was acquitted of most of the charges, with the jury hanging on others.
In the end, the judge did not take any action against Jenkins. Mission Local is told that he did “basically say, ‘no more talking to the witness.’”
During the recall, Jenkins was uncritically labeled in the press as a “progressive prosecutor.” But the drive to put people into prison, to win at all costs with prison being that win and anything else being a loss, harks to a more traditional prosecutorial role.
Jenkins is Mayor London Breed’s second nominee for DA. That’s got to be a record. Boudin defeated her first, Suzy Loftus. The electorate will determine what becomes of Jenkins in November. But she’ll have to hit the ground running and earn her office with the voters.
Boudin hasn’t returned our calls. It’s not clear if he’ll run again (and in November, no less). But the selection of Jenkins must rankle; this could be perceived as spitting in his eye.
But if Boudin does run, it figures to be a competitive race. Jenkins, again, has never run for office and is not an experienced fundraiser. She does not have the demographic advantage of Chinese American Nancy Tung, another aspirant for the position. And if Tung or one or more Aliotos runs in November — like Marsalis brothers, they always seem to be discovering new Aliotos — the moderates could, once again, split the vote and Boudin could triumph.
The social ills that led 55 percent of voters in June’s election to opt for booting Boudin from office will not be solved by November. And it remains to be seen just how much of the tough-on-crime solutions called for by the mayor and her handpicked DA are even feasible.
Jenkins may well, as the mayor’s office claims, be a great DA. In November, she’ll have to convince San Franciscans she’s the best we can do.