Walgreens, where alleged shoplifter Banko Brown was shot and killed by a security guard last month, has a direct line to District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and her senior staff through the trade group ALTO USA, according to interviews with half-a-dozen former prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, and others close to the DA’s office.
They described ALTO as closely involved in shoplifting cases in San Francisco, particularly those involving Walgreens.
The anti-retail-theft trade group, which counts national stores like Walgreens, Target, and Whole Foods as members, first began its relationship with the San Francisco district attorney’s office in November 2020 under Jenkins’s predecessor, Chesa Boudin.
ALTO’s lawyers work for Walgreens, interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, and pushing for more punitive prosecution of shoplifters. ALTO works closely with district attorneys across the country.
The trade group acts as a public relations firm, police liaison, and criminal prosecutor all rolled into one, hosting meet-and-greets with police and prosecutors on behalf of retail giants.
But ALTO lawyers also assist in prosecution. While they do not work in court directly, they do gather evidence and lobby district attorneys, pushing for more prison time and higher restitution — the amount of money that a convicted thief would have to pay back to a store like Walgreens.
“If they get prosecuted,” a Walgreens investigator boasts in a case study from the group, “they’ll know that it was because they stole from one of our ALTO Alliance stores.”
A closer relationship
The relationship between the San Francisco DA’s office and ALTO is particularly close now, because a lead attorney for the trade group is a personal friend, ally and former colleague of Jenkins.
Xóchitl Carrion, a lead San Francisco attorney for ALTO since November 2021 and Jenkins were both hired as assistant district attorneys under former District Attorney George Gascón — Jenkins in 2014, Carrion in 2015 — and came up in the office at the same time.
“She’s very close personally with Brooke, and with other people in decision-making capacities [at the DA’s office],” said a former prosecutor.
At the District Attorney’s Office, Carrion was a member of a retail task force composed of lawyers and others from the DA’s office and ALTO, according to a former member of the office. The task force worked on retail theft investigations, largely involving Walgreens.
Carrion was also one of several prosecutors, including Jenkins, who left the District Attorney’s Office publicly in July 2022 under its predecessor, Boudin. Like Jenkins, she spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle that month, criticizing Boudin’s performance.
When she left the DA’s office, Carrion went through the revolving door to ALTO and led the partnership from the corporate side, bringing Walgreens investigators into the DA’s office, where they would pose for photos with Jenkins. LinkedIn postings by ALTO employees, including Carrion, show several meetings between the trade group, Walgreens employees, DA staff, San Francisco police, and San Francisco sheriff’s deputies.
Carrion, on behalf of ALTO, has represented the interests of retail giants to the DA’s office since 2021. In San Francisco, sources close to the DA’s office said that ALTO and Walgreens were practically synonymous.
Carrion was also appointed to the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board in 2022 by Mayor London Breed.
Carrion did not respond to requests for comment.
The Brown shooting
It’s unclear if ALTO or Carrion have been in touch about the Brown shooting. However, ALTO advertises its ability to quickly get return calls from police and prosecutors when others cannot, and those familiar with the DA’s partnership with ALTO said its attorneys would have been in contact regarding the Brown shooting.
In declining to press charges against the guard last week, Jenkins said Walgreens security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony was in “mortal fear” when he shot Brown and that her office could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Anthony did not act in self-defense.
Several sources close to the DA’s office said that, regardless of intent, the decision not to charge the Walgreens security guard was a major relief to the national chain: If Anthony had been charged, the civil case against Walgreens would be a cinch.
“I feel like everyone’s missing the point,” said a source close to the DA’s office, regarding Jenkins’s decision against charging Anthony. “Walgreens would be on the hook for a lot of money if the security guard is held liable.”
Neither the District Attorney’s Office, ALTO, nor Walgreens responded to requests for comment.
ALTO, which also works with stores like CVS and Walmart, has grown its partnership with Walgreens in recent years. The national retailer now uses ALTO’s services in 2,200 stores across the country, up from 500 in 2019.
Walgreens on the hook
If Anthony had been charged in criminal court, any civil case against Walgreens would have been presented to Brown’s family on a silver platter, several attorneys said.
John Burris, the civil rights attorney hired by the family, said he still plans to file a civil suit as soon as this coming Friday, a day after Brown’s funeral; the suit, he says, will target Walgreens, Kingdom Group Protective Services, and Anthony himself.
That suit could be extremely costly: In 2018, the family of a man shot and killed by a Walgreens security guard in Los Angeles filed a $525 million wrongful death suit against Walgreens. The guard was later charged with murder for the shooting; he had shot the shoplifting suspect, Jonathan Hart, in the back of the neck as he fled the store. Both cases are still pending, and Walgreens has filed numerous motions seeking to dismiss the civil charges.
A former prosecutor with the DA’s office said that a guilty criminal verdict against the guard would leave him “salivating,” he said. A subsequent civil victory against Walgreens, he explained, would be almost guaranteed.
Criminal cases carry a higher burden of proof than civil ones. Attorneys are required to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is guilty in a criminal trial. In civil cases, by contrast, attorneys must only prove that the “preponderance of evidence” points to a guilty verdict.
“My job would be so easy. Admission in a criminal suit automatically fulfills the burden of establishing civil liability, it automatically does.”
Civil cases are routinely filed even when a district attorney has not filed criminal charges, however. And Burris, for his part, said he was bullish on the civil suit. “I don’t view it as difficult, I’m very confident.”
Jenkins has said that her office could not prove that Anthony did not act in self-defense, but video of the shooting showed Brown, who was unarmed, backing away from Anthony in the moment just before Anthony raised his pistol and fired, striking Brown once in the chest.
Crucially, Anthony has claimed that Brown threatened to stab him, repeatedly, while pinned to the ground. No other witnesses could corroborate this.
Jenkins has come under fire for her decision not to charge Anthony, the Walgreens security guard, in the April 27 shooting of Brown. Legal experts have questioned the decision not to pursue criminal charges against Anthony, saying the self-defense grounds are not clear-cut.
Board President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Shamann Walton, in a rebuke of Jenkins’s decision, have asked the California attorney general and the federal Department of Justice to investigate the killing.
ALTO attorneys squeeze shoplifters on Walgreens’ behalf
Several former prosecutors at the District Attorney’s Office, and others close to the office, said that ALTO attorneys, in addition to gathering evidence, routinely ask for the highest possible restitution after a shoplifting case.
“They specifically said their job was to facilitate restitution,” said a former prosecutor familiar with meetings between ALTO attorneys and the DA’s office. The former prosecutor said restitution amounts for a shoplifting case could range wildly, from the low hundreds to several thousands of dollars, and described ALTO attorneys as “collection agents” for Walgreens.
“They wanted to make sure that Walgreens got paid.”
Restitution payments can be onerous for shoplifting suspects. If the amount levied is larger than $2,500, judges can impose interest after 15 days until the sum is paid back in full. Unlike other debts, restitution cannot be erased in bankruptcy.
In San Francisco, only 20 percent of restitution is collected from suspects, even after five years, according to a flier from the San Francisco DA’s office.
“It impacted the kids, long term,” said the former prosecutor. “It stayed with them for the rest of their lives.”
Sidney Hollar, a criminal defense attorney who represents juveniles accused of shoplifting, said that if Walgreens or another store seeks restitution, the judge is required to order it — regardless of the accused’s ability to pay.
And for a stretch of time in court, she said, there were “two Walgreens attorneys coming to every single case” watching as the line DAs — those in the courtroom, prosecuting cases — asked judges for restitution on their behalf.
“I imagine Walgreens is insured, so they do not have to go after 14-year-old poor Black and brown children,” she said. The restitution amounts, which she sometimes saw go into the thousands, were “a huge burden” for the defendants.
“My clients are poor children.”
ALTO attorneys were concerned “down to the penny” whether they could get money back from shoplifters, added another source close to the DA’s office.
Partnership began with Boudin
In 2021, Boudin praised the ALTO partnership when announcing charges against the man caught bicycling out of a Walgreens with an armful of shoplifted goods. While the viral video was a gift to the pro-recall effort, an ALTO executive actually wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, touting the close communication between his team, the police, and Boudin’s prosecutors.
Within the office, however, the reaction to ALTO was a mixed bag: Some prosecutors enjoyed the extra help, others said the relationship was suspicious.
“When they started to get involved in cases and prosecutions and identifying potential targets for prosecutions, people in management positions were uncomfortable with the role that ALTO had,” said a former prosecutor at the DA’s office.
ALTO would interview and gather witnesses to alleged incidents, for instance, passing them along to the DA’s office for use in a prosecution case.
That aid was “like music to my ears,” said another former prosecutor. ALTO attorneys expedited shoplifting cases by calling store witnesses or getting receipts, the prosecutor said, facilitating the prosecution.
Still, for some line DAs, it raised questions: Are ALTO attorneys part of the prosecution team? Are they giving witnesses independent legal advice?
“It’s a little bit of a black box,” said a former prosecutor, adding that ALTO could “influence witness testimony” or pressure a witness “to testify in a certain way,” knowing they are ultimately paid by and beholden to Walgreens.
That confusion, for many former prosecutors and those close to the DA’s office, was mirrored at the top, in Jenkins’s relationship with Carrion and Walgreens.
“It raises questions of whether or not they have undue influence,” the former prosecutor said, “and whether or not maintaining that close relationship is going to impact decision-making.”
A big part of the reason Ms Jenkins is DA is that she intends to enforce laws against retail theft among other crimes unlike her predecessor.
Thank you for this very important exposure of the larger picture relationship between Jenkins, the SF DA’s office and Walgreens! Very important to get this information out as context for the lack of accountability regarding Banko Brown’s tragic death.
Who are all of these “sources close to the DA’s office”?
Your article is a one sided hit piece against ALTO. Perhaps you could add perspective to this article that might detail why retail chains, police departments and DA offices all over the country turn to companies like ALTO for help to prevent merchandise theft. You could discuss the scope and severity of shoplifting in San Francisco, the helplessness and fear of the staff of these stores, how increasingly, the tenderloin and SOMA have become retail deserts, how much retail stores pay for broken windows, merchandise theft and insurance, how these problems affect people who don’t shoplift, or how police departments struggle to make arrests and procèderions for property crime. It would also be nice if you stopped turning shoplifters into these Robin Hood like characters who deserve to steal from the rich. Most people who are poor do not steal so why glamorize these shoplifting criminals?
This is a complete non-story. Lawyers and others work with crime victims all the time and liaison with prosecutors. I routinely represent companies who have been subjected to thefts of trade secrets, embezzlement, and even antitrust violations. We work with the DOJ to help them build their case. Nobody “pressures” witnesses to say anything – that’s nonsense. While this might not be commonly known to those who aren’t involved in the criminal justice system, it is a common, legal and ethical business practice.
There is no question that Alto has a job to do and that is not a bad thing. There is no question that shoplifting and loss are problematic. None. But to suggest that the district attorney’s dear friend, who happens to be Walgreens’ attorney through Alto AND occupies a seat on the Sheriff Oversight Board is a non-story is very problematic, particularly coming from an attorney.
Sounds like it isn’t a problem that Harlan Crow paid for Clarence Thomas’ nephew’s education, or that Muhammed Nuru ‘paid’ to have London Breed’s car repaired. Non-stories? Hardly.
That attorney must step down from the Sheriffs Oversight Board. Period.
Quit trying to suggest “collusion” because the DA and the other attorney because they also happen to be friends and they may share views on shoplifting. Shoplifting is a major problem in San Francisco, and leading to big problems for both local only businesses and larger retail chain stores. We already see major retail leaving the city, and that is likely to continue in the near future. This erodes the City’s tax base and budget, and makes life more difficult for ALL San Franciscans in other ways too. Most people are against shoplifting, period, and certainly against the out of control problem it is here.
Insinuating collusion between the DA and the other attorney makes it sound like something nefarious and underhanded is taking place to the detriment of the general public. When the general public views shoplifting a major problem, any two persons who share that view can hardly be described as collusive, even when the other two are attorneys – even when one of them is the DA.
You’re discussing shoplifting and I’m talking homicide. I don’t have an issue with a commitment to stopping retail theft. At all. I do want transparency from my elected officials and, once again, the DA has not done that well. If there’s nothing to hide between the three-way relationship that the Walgreens attorney, the DA, and the Sheriffs Oversight Board, then expose it to daylight. Truth and integrity die in the dark. A young man is dead for no logical reason – not because he stole, not because he had a weapon (he didn’t), not because the guard’s life was at risk. So, again, commenting on retail theft when a life has been lost is missing the mark.
You were most certainly insinuating collusion when you stated “Sounds like it isn’t a problem that Harlan Crow paid for Clarence Thomas’ nephew’s education, or that Muhammed Nuru ‘paid’ to have London Breed’s car repaired. Non-stories? Hardly. That attorney must step down from the Sheriffs Oversight Board. Period.”
If that isn’t an insinuation of collusion or conflict of interest, perhaps you might wish to review your own prior statements.
In addition why should it be necessary for you to further state “If there’s nothing to hide between the three-way relationship that the Walgreens attorney, the DA, and the Sheriffs Oversight Board, then expose it to daylight.”
Why should they state anything when there is no reason to assume conflict of interest or collusion? That all three view shoplifting a major problem is not an issue when the majority of San Franciscans also view it as a major problem. That’s your second insinuation of potential collusion.
Why is it not being mentioned that this attorney for alto is also on the SF Sheriffs Oversight Board and was just sworn in for her second term? Mission Local shared her name in the March 29 article as the sole missing member at that meeting. A former ADA who is very close with the current DA represents the firm that defends Walgreens and saves them money. This event and the failure to prosecute is saving Walgreens millions of dollars. The attorney who oversees the situation of this homicidal security guard is on the board that oversees deputies who behave badly. How is this allowed to happen? She needs to step down from the oversight board right away, and the security guard must be charged right away. The DA is sending a clear message that Walgreens profits matter more than the life of a young, unhoused, Black, transkid.
I would like to know where all the articles are on this kid living on the streets since the age of 14. Last time I checked, that makes him a dependent and yet no one is reporting on how and why he ended up on the streets at that age.
This reporter clearly has a sympathetic point of view to the shoplifter, and shoplifters in general and the reporting consistently reflects that. That is not objective reporting. It simply reports the information that makes this kid, and shoplifters in general the victims.
Balanced reporting would look at both sides of this story and report the whole story and let the reader decide for themselves. That’s not what’s happening here. The result is that just like Fox News, we are being encouraged to come to one conclusion: the reporter’s.
Please file records requests for ALTO. The privatization of prosecution is extraordinarily troubling.
Whatever and whoever fights shoplifting is doing SF a favor.
Shoplifters steal chump change and risk their lives to do it. Billionaires steal the planet and risk nothing, because the agents of death work for them. But when we’re engaging in social psychology or projecting our personal frustrations we tend to miss the underlying reality. A lot of us are guilty of both, as they are human weaknesses. The problem is when we strap up and look for an excuse to shoot someone. Then we have to own up to our responsibility, and those who write about it should not provide implicit excuses for unacceptable behavior. There are levels of the latter; shoplifting is one, murder is another. This is not as complicated as some would have us think, nor should anyone make the absolutely insane implication that the solution to shoplifting is to shoot people. I don’t like that guy who ran the red light or double parked on a busy street. Should I pull out the glock and waste him? Maybe in Florida…
You assume shoplifting is only done by lone individuals who are “needy individuals.” In fact there are also organized criminal gangs involved in shoplifting for profit, and their activities are mentioned frequently by the SFPD and local news, by other Bay Area cities, and in most of the major cities of the United States.
Many lone shoplifters steal items to sell on the street to buy drugs. Hardly surprising considering drug addiction is rampant and a major problem here.
I am in no way justifying the killing of Banko Brown. That is a separate matter and the State Attorny General is investigating and the family of Banko Brown has filed suit. I am just addressing your assumption of lone, poor, needy individuals shoplifting for chump change. When your neighborhood becomes a pharmacy, grocery store and small business desert, you’ll understand the impact of out of control shoplifting.
When do our new alt right overlords expect to float a bond measure for that debtor’s prison they’ve been eyeing?
We don’t suffer from Alt-Right overlords here in San Francisco, but we most certainly do from all-talk-and-no-action city politicians and Alt-Extreme Left wannabe overlords.
Clearly Alto is not *that * influential , as very few shoplifting cases are prosecuted anyway. And for all the people saying, “oh Walgreens shouldn’t care because they have insurance anyway.” You have zero understanding of insurance and how it affects business. First off, filing insurance claims causes the business’ insurance rates to increase, and if a business files too many claims their insurance company can drop them. And ultimately, who do you think pays for those increased costs? We all do… we’ll all of except the criminals.
The way to not pay the costs of shoplifting is to not shop at stores that are shoplifted. I dropped Walgreens as my pharmacy after they closed 16th/Mission and 23d became a zoo during the pandemic. Now I get my scripts delivered almost always by bicycle from Alto, the pharmacy, not this revolving door group.
If I need brick and mortar now, then I go to Target at 13th/Folsom that does not seem to be a rich target for retail theft.
Marcos, what happens when they close Target in San Francisco due to shoplifting and lack of paying shoppers? Do you just go to San Mateo? Shoplifters are killing brick and mortar retail all over the city. It would be a mistake to sit back and let it happen. Sure, I do online shopping but the thought of living without the convenience good and well stocked drug stores and convenience stores would make this city that much less attractive.
“Shopping online” is what is killing brick and mortar stores, not shoplifting.
Please consider supporting small businesses.
‘We all pay for shoplifting except the criminals’? Man, did you miss the boat on this one. A human being ‘paid’ for this with his life! Who is a criminal in this? Someone who stole a couple of candy bars, or someone who shot and killed someone? Those guns hold ten rounds in each clip, and the guard had seven clips and two guns. My math says ninety rounds. What was he intending to do when he headed out for the day with ninety rounds? Stop a shoplifter? Or did he engage in a premeditated, deliberate preparation to act out his murder fantasy? These comments about the evils of shoplifting seem strange to me when they are implicitly justifying this murder. And sorry Joe, but ‘marginalization’ does not justify that. That rationale, if used in a courtroom, would doom the accused to a conviction. A lot of people have been homeless and/or abused; I have. But we didn’t kill someone, and that’s as important a distinction as there is.
Great reporting. Someday, someone, somewhere, might be tempted to call Jenkins a shill.
The fucked up thing, if Anthony went down, it would have been picking up the institutional racism split. A Fortune 500 company roundaboutly pits two low-income minorities against each other, one ends up dead and one does 20 years in the State Pen.
I hope Banko’s family settles 8-digits, but there’s only a travesty of justice to be had here, any way you slice it. The easy way to see it for what it is – Anthony smoking Banko for spitting on him – is to view it sans legal imbroglio.
So this is Walgreen’s fault? They actually staged it according to your logic. I hope Walgreens leaves SF entirely. When theft has become normalized and rationalized, anarchy is just around the corner.
I’m saying Walgreen’s set the stage by bringing in armed security, and that the system is biased.
Based solely on SF population demographics, what was the probability both the shooter and the victim would end up being Black?
What set the stage was Brown shoplifting and trying to get past an armed security guard after he was caught red-handed. He was the catalyst for the altercation. All he had to do was hand over the stolen goods and leave the store.
I agree with others who commented on the obviously extremely left slant of this article. No group is entitled to steal, shoplift, rob, burglarize or commit any other crime – and that includes racial or ethnic minorities. There are no free passes for crime. The majority of the poor, whether White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, etc. do not commit crimes. Everyone suffers directly or indirectly from crime and increased crime rates, including the poor. Stop excusing the criminal few at the expense of everyone else.
Good article, Joe- but maybe you could also mention that Carrion was appointed by Breed to the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board? https://sf.gov/profile/xochitl-carrion