In the latest reorganizational move from appointed incumbent District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, the attorney prosecuting former police officer Christopher Samayoa for the shooting death of unarmed civilian Keita O’Neil will be removed from the case.
The announcement came in the form of an Aug. 12 all-staff memo from Jenkins, obtained by Mission Local. Assistant District Attorney James Conger was the last remaining prosecutor hired by ousted DA Chesa Boudin in the Independent Investigations Bureau of the DA’s office. That unit investigates police shootings and most police misconduct cases that may warrant criminal prosecution.
Boudin, who was recalled in June, ran on a platform promising to hold police officers accountable for killings and excessive violence — Samayoa’s case was to be the first-ever criminal prosecution of an on-duty police officer for homicide. On Dec. 1, 2017, Samayoa killed O’Neil, a fleeing suspected carjacker, with a single gunshot.
How the staffing changes will impact the prosecution of this case and others Boudin brought against law enforcement officers is still unclear. Jenkins has said that she is committed to police accountability, but the removal of a prosecutor after nearly two years on a case raises questions about this commitment.
“Miss Jenkins’ actions belie her words,” said Rebecca Young, Conger’s former colleague, who was fired shortly after Jenkins took office. “She not only fired two of the three attorneys who were doing police accountability work, she has now removed the last attorney in the unit, who had fought for the last two years to bring justice to Keita O’Neil’s family.”
Young, who is running for Public Defender, said she “fear[s] for justice and peace in San Francisco when the top prosecutor is firing people based on politics and not on merit.”
“For a city that’s struggled with police violence and police misconduct for decades, what this sends is a message that it’s back to open season for police — and that generally puts the whole community in danger,” said John Hamasaki, who announced last week that he will run against Jenkins for the District Attorney seat.
O’Neil’s family is also concerned about what Conger’s removal means for them.
“That shook me,” said O’Neil’s aunt, April Green. Green said Conger, who was attentive and accessible, was the best district attorney she could have asked for.
Green told Mission Local that she is holding out hope that Jenkins will still pursue the case, and expects to meet with the new DA soon. “Even [the SFPD] fired him — even the police department don’t want him! And so, why would you stand by someone like that?” Green asked.
The case’s preliminary hearing has already been delayed since charges were first announced by Boudin in 2020. The family of O’Neil, who have long been fighting to get justice and their day in court, have accused Samayoa’s defense team of stalling until Boudin was recalled from office.
A preliminary hearing would allow much of the evidence in the case to come out publicly, said Hamasaki, and “by delaying it, what they’re doing is preventing a record from being made. So if they decide to dismiss it [later], there’s not going to be evidence in the public eye of whether or not the charges were justified.”
DA spokesperson Randy Quezada said the case will be “reset for preliminary hearing and continued to a date to be determined” upon agreement by the DA’s office and Samayoa’s defense counsel.
“She speaks about fairness. She speaks about people that are victims and how they’re being voiced out, how Chesa was ignoring them,” Green said. “Well, my family is a victim. So does our voice count?”
For now, Samayoa’s case is still on the court calendar for Thursday, Aug. 18. Conger, who is to be moved to the general felonies unit on Aug. 17, declined to comment about the upcoming changes.
Quezada declined to comment on the attorneys removed from the Independent Investigations Bureau, but said that the unit “will continue its important work to review and investigate cases of police misconduct, officer involved shootings, in-custody deaths, and excessive use of force cases independently and impartially.”
“Recognizing the importance of this work, DA Jenkins sought to bring on an experienced prosecutor to lead the unit,” Quezada wrote in a statement.
Prior to Conger’s demotion, his three colleagues in the Independent Investigations Bureau left the office: Rebecca Young and Lateef Gray were fired by Jenkins, along with at least another dozen staffers across multiple departments, last month; Hans Moore resigned shortly before Boudin was recalled in June.
Young, Gray, and Moore — all Boudin hires — led the first prosecution of a San Francisco police officer for excessive force earlier this year. They lost their case, as Officer Terrance Stangel was found not guilty of battery with serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, after beating Dacari Spiers, an unarmed Black man.
Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Grayner, who also prosecuted police officers in the White Collar Crimes Unit, resigned from the DA’s office last week after also being demoted. In a Twitter thread, Grayner accused Jenkins of making baseless allegations against her fellow prosecutors, and said Jenkins “will not properly investigate police officers.”
Jenkins last month appointed former public defender Darby Williams, a recent Boudin hire, to replace Gray as head of the unit. In the same memo announcing Conger’s reshuffling came the news that attorney Mark Koo would be moved into the Independent Investigations Bureau later this month.
Williams has taken over the prosecution of Officer Kenneth Cha, who shot Sean Moore on the front steps of his home in 2017. Those injuries eventually resulted in Moore’s death in 2020. Earlier this month, Williams asked for a continuance on the case to November.
Like Green, Moore’s mother Cleo Moore told Mission Local that day that she was frustrated at the delay tactics being used to draw out the court proceedings while she waited for justice.
Update 5:50 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Randy Quezada, a spokesperson for the District Attorney.
What a travesty. London Breed’s latest bad move.
Agreed, Jenkins isn’t a reassuring figure either re: police accountability
Every hire done by Boudin needs to be Fired.
James Conger was a public defender with no prior experience in prosecuting cases. Tbh having someone experienced in prosecuting cases is a step up
Sounds good to me and most SF residents. The last DA (public defender) did an awful job (he was easily recalled by liberal SF voters) in case management, victim Justice, and hiring. SF has a Public Defenders office. The DA is for the people (law abiding ppl). Let this burial black woman do her job, Mission Local seems to be attacking her endlessly.
“Young, who is running for Public Defender, said she “fear[s] for justice and peace in San Francisco when the top prosecutor is firing people based on politics and not on merit.”
Which of course is exactly what Chesa did within days of taking office!
Whether or not you want to see police prosecutions be a primary goal of the DA’s office, Chesa Boudin’s crew wasn’t very good at it.
I’ve been called to jury duty several times in this city and thus have heard random potential jurors express their opinions of police and prosecutions. Let’s just say it’s not surprising that 45% of the city supported Boudin in the recall.
Given that, how did Boudin’s office not get a conviction in the Stangel case? Either the case was really weak and shouldn’t have been prosecuted, or the assistant DAs did a really lousy job of presenting it. Or, most likely, both.
Given what? Your suspect anecdotal evidence from chumming it up during jury selection?
When have all these cop-hatin’ jurors convicted excessive LEO in SF prior to Boudin? Which DA was “good at it?”
Fact is, use of force convictions against cops are rare, but charging when it happens does tend to catch a department’s attention, win or lose.
Can we just let the DA, whomever they are, hire and fire (within applicable labor law) whomever they want and focus on what the office actually does in terms of prosecution, pleas, etc? Nobody likes to lose their job and i don’t like to see it. But If justice is served, i don’t care who serves it. Or am I missing something and we can accomplish something by back seat driving personnel decisions in the DA’s office?