More than a year after police officer Kenneth Cha was charged with manslaughter and assault for killing Sean Moore, DA Brooke Jenkins appears to be reexamining the case and raising questions that could lead to its dismissal.
If that happens, it would be the second time in short order that Jenkins has stepped away from prosecuting an officer who was charged by former DA Chesa Boudin, who was recalled in June, 2022. The former DA was the first in San Francisco’s history to pursue criminal prosecutions of officers for their roles in fatal civilian shootings.
Mark Koo, an attorney from DA Jenkins’ office, revealed in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday morning that he had requested and already received Moore’s medical records. They are sending these and other documents to Cha’s defense attorney.
This could indicate that, despite Moore’s 2020 death being ruled a homicide by a coroner following his 2017 shooting by Cha, the DA’s office is interested in tying other parts of his medical history to his death.
Cha, responding to a noise complaint in 2017, shot an unarmed Moore on Moore’s own front steps. Soon after, Cha shot and killed a knife-wielding man in a Subway restaurant.
Three years later, Moore died of complications from the gunshot wounds while in prison.
Moore’s family and supporters appeared in court on Friday morning, when San Francisco Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga was expected to set a date for a preliminary hearing for Cha, who faces charges of voluntary manslaughter and assault with a semi-automatic firearm for Moore’s death.
Instead, the defense requested additional time to review new documents turned over by prosecutors.
Cha is one of two officers facing homicide charges in San Francisco. The other, Christopher Samayoa, has also received something of a reprieve, with the DA earlier this month asking to drop the charges, a request that Attorney General Rob Bonta has put on hold for 90 days while his office weighs whether to take on the case.
On Friday, Cha’s defense attorney Scott Burrell requested additional time to review the “hundreds of pages of discovery” he had received in recent days from the DA’s office. Assistant DA Mark Koo said he had medical documents and records from the Sheriff’s Department that the DA’s office needed to send to Burrell.
Koo said he would “defer to Mr. Burrell’s schedule” and agreed to push the preliminary hearing setting date to late April.
Asked about the nature of the discovery pages, Koo told Mission Local that he was not familiar with the case, but said “it appears to be medical.”
Rebecca Young, the former prosecutor on Cha’s case under Boudin who attended court in support of Moore’s family today, suggested that the DA’s looking into Moore’s medical records could be part of a scheme to blame someone other than Cha for Moore’s death: Moore himself, or the medical care he received later at a San Francisco jail or at San Quentin prison, where he ultimately died.
“She’s trying to break the chain of causation between the gunshot wound to Sean Moore’s stomach and Sean Moore’s death,” Young told Mission Local in an impromptu interview in the courthouse hallway. She affirmed that she had investigated the same question while she was on the case. Medical malpractice, Young found, does not break that chain.
Young also noted that the subpoenas for the medical records were filed by the DA’s office, not Cha’s defense attorney, who would, understandably, try to disprove their client’s responsibility.
“This is wrong, they’re trying to railroad my son,” said Sean Moore’s mother, Cleo Moore, outside the courtroom today.
This is not the first time investigators in Jenkins’ office have tried to raise questions about Moore’s health.
Early in Jenkins’ tenure, in August, 2022, the unit of the DA’s office that investigates crimes by police officers began researching criminal liability for deaths in cases when a police officer killed a civilian, according to a District Attorney research memo.
The memo, written after Jenkins took office in July, 2022, appears to be among the first actions undertaken by Jenkins and her hand-picked Independent Investigations Bureau chief, Darby Williams.
Dated Aug. 4, 2022, the memo explores the notion of whether additional factors, such as physical condition or separate events, could contribute to a victim’s injury or death — and who would be to blame in those cases.
It does not specifically mention the Cha case, but the memo appears to discredit the idea that factors other than the shooting would prove significant enough to absolve Cha of responsibility for Moore’s death.
“The fact that the individual killed may have been more physically vulnerable is not a defense to murder,” the memo reads. “If the defendant’s act was a substantial factor causing the death, then the defendant is legally responsible for the death.”
When Moore died in January, 2020, a coroner ruled his death a homicide, caused by complications from gunshot wounds inflicted by Cha in 2017.
“The prosecution need not disprove possible theories of causation raised by the defense; its burden is met if it produces evidence … that the defendant’s act was a substantial factor…” reads the memo.
Regardless of the memo’s findings, the DA’s office is continuing to pull records on Moore’s medical history; on Friday it acquiesced to a 45-day delay while the defense pores over those records.
The DA’s office spokesperson Randy Quezada declined to comment on the memo, or the office’s reasoning for requesting Moore’s medical records in recent weeks.
Both Cleo Moore and her other son, Kenneth Blackmon, said they would be open to asking the Attorney General to get involved in Cha’s prosecution, as he may yet do with San Francisco’s only other pending police homicide case.
Earlier this week, the AG’s office asked for additional time to review the case against former Officer Samayoa for killing Keita O’Neil, after pressure was applied by O’Neil’s family and attorney, and Jenkins requested to jettison the case.
By law, the AG’s office now takes on all investigations of police killings of unarmed civilians in California, but Moore’s and O’Neil’s deaths came before that law passed.
“I don’t know how to even begin the process, I guess,” said Blackmon. “What, contact them? Or make a request to speak to them? Or, I don’t know how.”