When Chesa Boudin was elected to San Francisco DA in November, one of his big promises was to hold police accountable, and for many cases that means avoiding the conflict of interest of relying on the same police officers to testify in order to prosecute someone shot by police while they themselves are under investigation.
The first test of that principle is the case of 24-year-old Jamaica Hampton, who was shot and critically wounded by SF police in the Mission District on December 7, 2019. A formerly homeless man who worked as a waiter in Oakland, his leg has been amputated.
At the same time, he faces various charges including assault on a police officer. A video apparently shows him striking an officer with a glass vodka bottle. He was then chased and shot by police.
Mr. Hampton was originally charged with assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer, and threats to an officer by the DA’s office under interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus. But on Friday, the DA’s office announced it was withdrawing the charges due to their ongoing investigation into the two officers who shot Mr. Hampton.
“It would be problematic to ask the officers to testify while they are under investigation,” Mr. Boudin said on Saturday. “Mr. Hampton remains in the hospital in serious condition so there is no public safety concern with allowing the investigation to proceed and for my office to obtain more information on [both] sides of the investigation.”
Pushback from the Police Union and Chief
The decision by the elected DA has drawn heavy criticism from the police union and police chief.
“This unprovoked attack was a violent, criminal act,” Police Chief Bill Scott said in an email to his entire department on Friday. “I want you to know that we remain committed to working with the DA to see that justice is done in this case for our officers.”
San Francisco Police Officers Association President Tony Montoya called on Mr. Boudin to prosecute Mr. Hampton “for this unprovoked, violent assault.”
“We urge you to protect police officers and the public from dangerous individuals such as Jamaica Hampton and hold him accountable for his assault,” he said in the letter to Mr. Boudin. “Failure to do so sends a message to every suspect that it is perfectly acceptable to physically assault an officer to get away with your crimes.”
“The decision to dismiss Hampton’s case confirms the DA is not interested in representing crime victims, much less police victims,” he added in an email to the POA members in which he declared in the subject line, “Police Lives Don’t Matter.”
Joe Alioto Veronese, the grandson of former Mayor Joseph Alioto and son of Angela Alioto, a former member of the San Francisco Police Commission and more recently a frequent guest on Fox News, said in a message on Facebook, as shown above: “Chesa Boudin should resign now! San Francisco does not deserve to be subjected to this septic petri dish social experiment.”
In suggesting he would run for DA in 2023, he added, “San Francisco has NO Chief Law Enforcement protector in this man who is better suited for the office of the public defender. He is a danger to our criminal justice system and we should be thanking God that our police officers don’t refuse to show up to work.”
New Conflict Policy
But as Chesa Boudin explained to the Vanguard in a text on Saturday evening, the decision was “actually part of a new policy to avoid conflicts until concurrent investigations are complete.”
In the policy he emailed the Vanguard, it notes: “It is the policy of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office (SFDA) to investigate and prosecute potential criminality in the most complete, fulsome, and expeditious manner. However, it is acknowledged that the investigation of critical incidents, gun violence, or other complex crime scenes involving several parties, may necessitate multiple and contemporaneous investigations.”
The policy notes that “a thorough investigation of all parties and theories of liability may conflict with such statutory timelines.
“In recognition of such competing interests, and where appropriate, and in the interest of public safety, SFDA may elect to delay, defer, or prioritize the order in which investigations are completed and reviewed for charging or declination. This may include ‘discharging’ an arrest referral for ‘FURTHER INVESTIGATION, Code 27’ in favor of the completeness of all ongoing investigations.”
However, “no conclusions about the prosecutorial viability of any such deferral should be drawn based upon such a discharge. Such discharges shall be deemed only as an effort to deconflict investigative time limits, statutory discovery obligations and/or to maintain the integrity of investigative leads.”
Two Sides to Every Story
As Mr. Hampton’s attorney, Public Defender Danielle Harris, told the Vanguard late on Saturday, Jamaica Hampton at this point is no threat to public safety.
She told the Vanguard that seven weeks after the shooting, he remains hospitalized.
“The bullets hit major arteries in his left leg and left arm. Jamaica is lucky to be alive and he knows it,” Ms. Harris said in an emailed statement. “Jamaica’s punishment thus far has included his being unconscious, intubated, and on a feeding tube for over three weeks.”
She added, “When Jamaica regained consciousness, it soon became clear that the massive damage to his left leg was irreversible and his leg was amputated on January 9. The bullet to his left arm caused major nerve damage to his dominant arm and hand. Part of his right thumb was also amputated. He has fought off multiple infections and has endured dozens of trips to the OR.”
Further, “Jamaica’s recovery journey has only just begun and will be years in the making. Once hospitalization is no longer needed, Jamaica will be in a rehabilitation facility for a long time as his residual leg heals and he works to regain use of his arm. The end result remains unknown. “
In short, as DA Boudin pointed out, “there is no public safety concern with allowing the investigation to proceed and for my office to obtain more information on [both] sides of the investigation.”
Was Lethal Force Justified?
Immediately following the shooting in December, there was a contentious town hall meeting where supporters and advocates questioned the shooting and the need to use what could have been lethal force against him.
Danielle Harris pointed out that Mr. Hampton was unarmed when police officers shot him in both legs and an arm.
She said, “the coup de grâce shot (was fired) when Jamaica was on his knees, critically wounded and unarmed. The bullets hit major arteries in his left leg and left arm.”
Ms. Harris also pointed out the POA at this point “are not privy to all of the details that have emerged through the investigation so far.”
She said, “To prove any crime, the state must prove an act and a mental state. A violent act without a criminal mental state is a tragedy, but it is not a crime.”
Ms. Harris also noted, “SFPD has misrepresented the events leading up to their shooting Jamaica Hampton.”
She said that there was never any “hot prowl burglary” in this case. The police, she said, were investigating a misdemeanor trespass and vandalism by a person described to be “mentally disturbed.”
She argued that the officers who responded lacked “crisis intervention training” and also “failed to request assistance from crisis trained personnel.”
She told the Vanguard, “Had there been CIT personnel involved, these events would certainly have unfolded quite differently and without endangering all in the area that nearly fatal morning.”
Thus she believes that the DA’s office made the correct decision to defer prosecution until they had completed both investigations.
“This fundamental principle of law is what has so far been relied on to justify every single police killing in SF, no matter how apparently egregious. Here too, the law applies equally to all lives,” she added.
Danielle Harris believes that the decision to defer a prosecution decision “pending a complete investigation is exactly the procedure police benefit from routinely, regardless of how apparent their misconduct.”
She added, “The POA outrage reflects an institutional belief that the poor and powerless can be summarily jailed on half-information while only those in power deserve the benefit of careful, considered, full analysis. In a just world, all lives don’t just matter; they matter equally.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting