District Attorney Brooke Jenkins on Thursday told the family of Keita O’Neil, an unarmed carjacking suspect shot dead by a San Francisco policeman in 2017, that she intends to dismiss the charges against the officer who pulled the trigger.
The news came on the heels of the family on Thursday calling on Attorney General Rob Bonta to intervene in the prosecution of the responsible officer, for both legal and ethical reasons.
Brian Ford, the attorney representing O’Neil’s family, told Mission Local that due to “issues with the ethics and motivations of the prosecution of the case, [Jenkins] says that a she can’t, in good faith, move forward.”
Jenkins, in a letter addressed to the Attorney General on Wednesday, outlined her reasons, and said she would dismiss the charges unless the Attorney General took over the case.
The DA’s explanation for backing off the case, to Ford, confirmed a suspected conflict of interest at Jenkins’ office. Cases should be pursued based on “evidence and the law,” he said, adding that Jenkins’ decision “makes it all the more urgent for Mr. Bonta to intervene.”
Ford wrote in a letter on Thursday that Jenkins’ office should be removed from the case because of her office’s continued preoccupation with scrutinizing ousted former DA Chesa Boudin, instead of prosecuting the years-old case. After sending the letter, Ford and O’Neil’s aunt, April Green, learned that the DA planned to dismiss the case.
“It appears that the case was filed for political reasons and not in the interests of justice. I cannot pursue this case out of political convenience,” Jenkins wrote in her letter to Attorney General Bonta, impugning the actions and decisions of her predecessor Boudin. “Given the conflicts that have arisen, the evidentiary problems, and the complete lack of good faith surrounding the filing of this matter, we cannot ethically proceed with this prosecution.”
O’Neil was killed while fleeing in 2017, and the rookie officer who shot him, Christopher Samayoa, was subsequently discharged from the police force. In 2020, Samayoa was charged by Boudin for the killing, but the case has moved along slowly.
Reached today by text, Boudin fired back at Jenkins.
“Jenkins’ dismissal is offensive and her excuses are dishonest: We charged this case based on the facts — the same facts that led the police department to fire the officer, led the judge to sign the arrest warrant, and led the city to settle a multi-million-dollar lawsuit with Keita O’Neil’s family,” he wrote. “It’s clear Jenkins has been coordinating with the officer’s defense team to avoid a public hearing on the disturbing facts of the case. She is scapegoating me to try to divert attention from what this decision ultimately reveals about her: Jenkins will not hold everyone equally accountable under the law, she is deeply politically motivated, and she does not care about victims of police violence.”
Just before a long-awaited preliminary hearing last month, Samayoa’s defense team filed a motion claiming that exculpatory evidence — that is, evidence that could clear Samayoa — was withheld by the prosecution. How, exactly, any of the new information obtained by Jenkins’ office was exculpatory remains unclear.
The DA’s office did not protest that motion or the delay, something Ford and O’Neil’s aunt, April Green, found concerning. Green and Ford announced that week that they planned to call on the Attorney General to take over the case.
Green recently discovered health issues of her own, and said she has to undergo surgery to remove a tumor later this month.
“I feel like my voice — if I’m not available to speak — that my nephew’s case, before I recover, will be dismissed,” Green said shortly before she met with Jenkins Thursday afternoon. “And so, I need the Attorney General to get in and be my voice, and be the voice for my nephew. Because my voice is finna go down.”
“This case is too tied up in local politics; we need an independent agency,” Ford told Mission Local. “Mr. Bonta has an affirmative duty to step in this case.”
Legally, Ford continued, the Attorney General is authorized to step in: In fact, Assembly Bill 1506, which went into effect in 2021, requires a state prosecutor to investigate when an officer shoots and kills an unarmed civilian.
In his 12-page letter, which was sent to Bonta’s office today, Ford outlined the myriad ways that Jenkins’ office had stalled the case: When she was appointed as DA after Boudin was recalled, Jenkins removed the former prosecutors working on the case, and put all police prosecution cases on hold while new prosecutors reviewed them.
In recent weeks, two DA investigators approached the DA’s office with concerns about the Samayoa prosecution, according to prosecutor Darby Williams. The January, 2023, interviews with the investigators caused the preliminary hearing to be delayed.
Ford said he was told that Jenkins referred the issue to the City Attorney’s office, which would then conduct an investigation into the charging decisions. The City Attorney’s office confirmed to Mission Local last month that investigators on the Samayoa prosecution are being interviewed.
Nonetheless, the sudden appearance of the investigators — including Jeffrey Pailet, who was fired by Boudin, is suing the city, and is represented by the same law firm that is defending Samayoa — threw a wrench in the case.
“Why would Ms. Jenkins believe this material to be exculpatory when it isn’t even evidence? Why would her office fail to oppose the continuance?” Ford wrote in the letter.
In a statement, Jenkins said that “the irregularities and facts that have come to light surrounding the case against officer Samayoa suggest that the charges were not filed in good faith [and] appear to be politically motivated.” This, she said, “made it impossible” for her office to prosecute the case.
Pailet, who in 2021 sued Boudin for wrongful termination, has also disputed the prosecution of Officer Kenneth Cha. Cha shot the unarmed Sean Moore in 2017 on Moore’s own front steps. Moore died in 2020 of his injuries.
“The opinions of the D.A. Inspectors are not ‘evidence,’ and they are not relevant, nor are they exculpatory,” Ford wrote Bonta. He accused Jenkins and the lead prosecutor on the case, Williams, of “manufacturing irrelevant discovery and delays for the defense.”
“She is more interested in investigating the Boudin administration’s charging decisions than [prosecuting] law enforcement officers for their crimes,” Ford wrote.
Bonta, who co-authored AB 1506, stated at the time that external oversight could help ensure trust between law enforcement and communities.
“Impartial, fair investigations and independent reviews of officer-involved shootings are one essential component for achieving that trust,” wrote Attorney General Bonta in a press release around the time of AB 1506’s passage.
This is a developing story and may be updated.