When Terry and Barbara Brown walked out of a May 1 face-to-face meeting with District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, they were upset that charges would be dropped against the Walgreens security guard who shot dead their 24-year-old child, Banko Brown. But they say they were given every expectation the prosecutor would be piecing together evidence to make a case.
“I asked, ‘What y’all doing?’” recalls Terry Brown. “And she said, ‘We had to drop the case; we didn’t have our evidence together. If we took him to court right now and didn’t have all our eggs in the basket, the jury would eat us up.’ … It ended with her saying, ‘I’m going to investigate. I’m going to consider what you’ve said.’”
Theoretically, that could happen. But Jenkins, on that very day, inexplicably undercut any future case her office might bring against security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony. Jenkins’ subsequent press statement and media appearances didn’t impart the get-her-eggs-in-a-basket message she delivered to the grieving Brown family, and were not the measured comments that countless DAs have made when discussing a case they hope to possibly refile at a later date.
Rather, she essentially went to the press to emphasize the weakness of her own case and exonerate the suspect, Anthony.
“The evidence clearly shows that the suspect believed he was in mortal danger and acted in self-defense,” read Jenkins’ statement. “We cannot bring forward charges when there is credible evidence of reasonable self-defense. Doing so would be unethical and create false hope for a successful prosecution.”
One week later, with Brown’s supporters demonstrating in the streets, and the entire Board of Supervisors and Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) calling for Jenkins to turn over evidence in the shooting case, the DA insisted she may yet file charges.
But she cannot unring this bell. I have talked to prosecutors. I have talked to judges. I have talked to public-relations professionals. None of them can begin to fathom why a prosecutor would needlessly and publicly dog her own case if she had any intention of charging it.
At the same time, Jenkins has criticized the elected officials and members of the public asking her to disclose security footage and other evidence as jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.
“She’s the one jeopardizing the investigation,” responded a former prosecutor who served under former DA Kamala Harris. “I have no idea why she is talking about that stuff. Why make conclusive statements when the thing is still open? She’s limited herself, compromised herself. She could have had her press person say the case is still under review. What’s so hard about that?”
For the Browns, who attended a rally for their son after meeting with Jenkins, the DA’s subsequent media comments hit like a gut punch.
“She already had the plans,” says Barbara Brown. “She hoodwinked us.”
Jenkins’ office did not deign to counter claims made by Terry and Barbara Brown about what was discussed during their meeting. And the situation leading up to Banko Brown’s death that his father and stepmother say was described to them by the DA raises many questions.
The video footage — which the Board of Supervisors could, this week, begin the process of obtaining via subpoena — apparently does not have any sound. Banko Brown was unarmed. But the Browns say they were told by Jenkins that the claim Banko threatened to stab Anthony came from Anthony. Banko Brown allegedly made the threat as he was pinned to the ground by the much larger guard, and in no position to act on it.
Apart from this, there is also disagreement on what Brown told Anthony. The Browns say they were informed that another witness heard things differently; that Banko said something more akin to, “let me go, let’s fight, one-on-one.” This, Barbara Brown says, “sounds more like Banko.”
But if the alleged threat Banko Brown made while he was pinned to the ground is the basis for, as Jenkins put it, Anthony believing he was “in mortal danger” and acting “in self-defense,” Barbara Brown is deeply confused.
“If the guard felt his life was in danger, why would he allow Banko to get up, gather his items, and walk out of the store?” Barbara Brown asked. “If he was in fear, he would not have let Banko go. That is what has us so baffled. There was no weapon. There was no threat, if the gentleman allowed Banko to detach from him, gather his items and walk out of the store. Let’s make that make sense, because it clearly does not.”
Jenkins, citing prosecutorial ethics, will not discuss the evidence publicly — other than flatly stating that it “clearly shows that the suspect believed he was in mortal danger and acted in self-defense.”
Self-defense, prosecutors will remind you, is “a complete defense.” It’s unclear what forthcoming evidence could possibly mitigate self-defense.
And while legal scholars have postulated that the DA’s office could move to keep the DA’s own words, weighing in on the evidence and exonerating Anthony, from being heard by a jury, sharp-elbowed attorneys find ways to say what they want to say. And, it turns out, jurors find ways to hear what they want to hear.
“Don’t think juries don’t Google case names before they walk in,” says a judge. “They’ve done it. To think you could undo [Jenkins’ statements] is absurd.”
On May 8, Jenkins sent a letter to Supervisor Shamann Walton, who had requested video and other evidence be made public and asked the DA to “reconsider and reevaluate” her decision to not file charges against Anthony.
Regardless of one’s feelings about Walton or the nature of his request, this was the sort of inquiry that could’ve been parried and rendered yesterday’s news with a brief, diplomatic and forgettable note.
It was not: Jenkins’ letter, responding to Walton, was needlessly and excruciatingly high-handed, and needlessly exacerbated and extended her problematic spell on the hot seat. And, to boot, it needlessly opened Jenkins up to stinging recriminations and revisitations of her prior dubious actions in ways that a more curt and professional reply would not have.
To wit, Jenkins’ criticism of Walton’s “interference in the judicial process” leads to the question of just what the hell Jenkins’ office would call her own behavior in earlier instances. What, for example, was the DA’s office doing when it in February publicized the letter it sent to the Attorney General’s Office regarding the decision to drop the case against Officer Christopher Samayoa? Any concerns the DA’s office had with the case could’ve been handled privately with the AG’s office, and the AG could’ve made a decision based upon how much credence it gave to those concerns and the merits of the case.
But in publicizing the letter, the DA’s office made this into a political matter and altered the AG’s calculus regarding whether to take on the case. In short: It interfered in the judicial process.
And, in a scenario repeated this month with the Banko Brown situation, the DA gift-wrapped a reasonable-doubt argument to any future defense attorney in a potential prosecution.
So, there’s that. We’re also left to wonder how, other than “interference in the judicial process,” Jenkins might describe her decision to email a colleague an unredacted rap sheet for Troy McAlister, the repeat offender who, in 2020, struck and killed two women while driving under the influence.
Actually, there is a way to describe this behavior other than “interference:” In California, the furnishing of a rap sheet to someone who is not authorized to possess it is a crime.
You’re not going to believe this, but members of the Board of Supervisors reacted to Jenkins’ sermon on prosecutorial ethics about the same way they’d take to a lecture on healthy living from Pete Davidson. Her behavior has resulted in the impressive feat of uniting all 11 supes — and Wiener — in a position opposing her own.
Jenkins’ handling of this case may yet work out — for somebody. But the same can never be said for the Browns.
“She looked us in the eyes and said, ‘it’s not over. We’re going to investigate,’” recalled Terry Brown. “And then she said what she said in the media.”
“I’ll never hear Banko saying Happy Mother’s Day. I can’t get a text saying, ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’” said Barbara Brown on the Friday before the holiday. “There’ll be no more texts asking no more questions.”
“What will transpire?” Barbara asks of the DA’s next move. “She’s not revealing much. So she should be doing much more later. This is not the end.”