By David M. Greenwald
Sam Francisco, CA – There was no Chesa Boudin, who was holding a Townhall at Manny’s at the same time, but there was an engaged discussion over the recall of Chesa Boudin to be held on June 7. Representing the pro-recall side were former Assistant DAs Brooke Jenkins and Don Du Bain. Representing the no-recall side were Tinisch Hollins and former Police Officer Richard Corriea.
Through the evening Jenkins would argue that the criminal justice system needs reform, but the problem is the lack of competence by DA Boudin.
“I share in the opinion that the system is broken, and that black and Latino defendants have been disenfranchised and disadvantaged in the criminal justice system throughout the history of this country,” she said. “But what reform looks like is not simply deciding not to prosecute and is not simply that we will not hold criminal offenders in this city accountable.”
For her “it means that we should be innovative and creative in finding ways to provide alternatives to incarceration that assist people in changing the trajectory of their lives.”
Jenkins argued, “That is not something that Chesa Boudin has done in the last two years.”
Throughout the evening, she and Don Du Bain both argued, as Jenkins did in the opening argument, “He has not come up with one single new program that didn’t previously exist in order to create new opportunities for criminal offenders to rehabilitate themselves to change and engage pro-social behavior. What we’ve seen is that he has put these offenders in situations that have simply, uh, made it more likely that they, that they re-offend.
“Because of that,” she argued, “he is failing the city. He is failing to keep San Francisco safe. He is failing to promote public safety as he’s obligated to do and lives are actually being lost.”
Richard Corriea said, “I am against the recall as a person who spent a good part of my life, working with communities on public safety, the recent recall created misleading public commentary about crime and safety has been disturbing and seems bent on fermenting fear.”
He said, “The pro recall people are exploiting the complexity and lack of transparency in the criminal justice system while ignoring the social while ignoring the impacts of social problems and poor public policy.”
Corriea said, “There seems to be a suggestion that we return to the good old days of the criminal justice system… I think the real answer to crime and fear deserves a bit more conservation.”
He argued, “I’ve seen half-truths being lobbed from deep in the bleachers, and I’m reminded of the Yiddish proverb that a half-truth is a whole lie.”
Corriea continued, “The current DA shared his ideas with us when he ran for office and he’s doing what he said he’d do. I object to the recall because of promoters would have you believe that San Francisco would be safer if we just dumped a district attorney, which is the most ridiculous notion that I’ve ever heard.”
He added that “instead of recall, we should challenge all of our electeds and public officials to work together, to make San Francisco the safest and most just big city in America, something they’re not doing now.”
Tinich Hollins added, “My position today against the recall is rooted in the belief that the failures of the criminal justice system, and even the failures of this current SFPD office do not begin or end with Chesa Boudin’s leadership.”
She said, “I support him because he has been responsive to the needs and the priorities that were set out by our community. Overreliance on the criminal legal system has had a disastrous impact specifically on the black community, not just in San Francisco, but throughout this country.”
She said, “We need more than reliance on jail and policing to deal with the social issues that are underlying drivers of crime chase.” She added, “I do not recall a time where any other DA’s offices were largely successful in any way, because we know the systems are broken and failing.”
And concluded, “While we all may care. Personally, I find it offensive that we spend so much time, money, and energy and political debates and recall efforts rather than channeling those resources directly to the people who need immediate help right now, and scaling up their ability to keep the community safe, which is what they’ve called for from the very beginning.”
Both sides then spent the next 40 minutes or so responding to questions from the two moderators—Marisa Lagos of KQED (PBS) and Meagan Cassidy from the Chronicle.
Don Du Bain explained that the Troy McAllister case was what specifically occurred that made him support the recall of Boudin.
“Troy McAllister faced a potential life sentence for a robbery based on very extensive criminal history. And Chesa within two months of taking office, uh, released Troy McAllister back onto the street, did not even wait for sentencing having cut a deal where he, McAllister had simply pled to one count of robbery.”
He continued, “Troy McAllister was arrested four times, never charged until on the afternoon of December 31, 2020, he drove a stolen vehicle into downtown San Francisco at 65 to 70 mph, while intoxicated and struck and killed two innocent women walking across the street that was due to a reckless decision by Chesa Boudin.”
“There’s more to the story,” Richard Corriea responded in a 30-second response. He said, “There’s too many facts left out here to McAllister when he stole the car.” He noted, “He was in Daily City” and “the Daily City police could have gone and arrested him at his house that night, and chose not to—probably for good reason.”
In response to another question, he explained, “The criminal justice system is very complicated and people don’t understand it.”
The next question was whether the buck stops with the DA.
Hollins responded, “We cannot focus just on individual cases. We have to look at the overall conditions that are impacting safety right now.”
She pointed out that the impact of COVID-19 has been underplayed in this.
“Especially on communities that were already vulnerable,” she said. “We knew that before the pandemic hit, San Francisco had issues with things like homelessness, folks with undressed mental illness, the lack of resources that many folks who are disenfranchised have, and we know those things make higher propensity for issues of violence.”
Megan Cassidy asked why we should blame the DA for increases in property crimes, but not credit him for a relatively low murder rate or if the murder rate goes up somewhat in San Francisco, it’s consistent with the rest of the country?
Jenkins responded that murder is wrong and everyone agrees that “it will never be something that will go unpunished.” But, “when the DA creates an environment where a property crime, where assault, where burglary is acceptable, where there is no consequence, where even if you are arrested, you are released within hours at most, a day or two back out onto the street, it doesn’t matter if you commit five more burglaries, you’re going to be released each time and at most, uh, get probation, but at best get diversion, regardless of how many offenses you pick up, he’s creating a landscape where, where criminal offenders desire to come here and commit crime, because they know that they understand that there is no penalty.”
She argued, “There are actual people who are dead because Chesa made decisions to release people prematurely without requiring any rehabilitative programming.”
Corriea explained, “After 35 years in police work, I don’t believe that criminals in their calculation think about what Chesa Boudin is going to do or not do to them. What they think about is what are the chances of getting a, maybe a tourist car with valuable items in it? What are the chance of getting caught? Those factors weigh in…”
The no side was asked if people feel unsafe, asking “why shouldn’t the DA be held accountable for some of the really horrific, you know, or just upsetting things we’ve seen particularly around property crimes?”
Corriea said, “Property crimes are changing patterns because of the pandemic.” He noted people are saying, “Someone’s going in and shoplifting it’s the DA’s fault. What about the retailers that in my career have gone from stopping people and holding them and arresting them to not using security and just passing the cost onto the consumer or closing shops all together.”
He said, “I can tell you that I never made a shoplifting arrest ever because they were done by private security in the stores who would call the police and sign a citizen’s arrest card.”
He added, “I think it’s also important to mention that property crime closure rates have been sadly low in San Francisco for a very long time that did not just start.”
Brooke Jenkins responded, “The issue for us is that Chesa creates the landscape where criminals think this is okay behavior, right?” She mentioned examples from the police, “that they will make an arrest and somebody will tell them that’s fine, cuz I’ll be out in a few hours, the DA’s office, isn’t going to do anything about it or jail calls where they’re saying, you know what, pretty much theft is legal in San Francisco.
“These are the stories that we are hearing,” she said. “It doesn’t take the responsibility off of the police to make arrests. Of course. I think we have to understand we are in a universe now where morale is low.”
The no side was asked “wouldn’t it be better if we had a DA who was working more in partnership with the mayor and police department?”
Hollins said, “Of course that would be ideal and not just amongst government, between government and community. And that’s what we hope to see.”
But she pointed out, “if we’re looking at the stats, going back to the clearance rates and talking about the police department, clearance rates have been below 10 percent for over a decade—that was just released in the CJCJ report.”
She said, “So the failures can’t just be on one elected official or one city department, all systems and city departments are responsible for uplifting, smart public safety approaches that actually work. The failure can’t just be on one.”
Corriea added, “I think the public policies that were implemented during COVID may be necessary, but created serious problems that our public officials haven’t been able to resolve.”
Lagos asked Brooke Jenkins and Don Du Bain what criminal justice reform is.
Du Bain responded, noting that he spent over 30 years as a prosecutor in various counties. He said, “I’ve known plenty of progressive DAs in my time—Nancy O’Malley over in Alameda County, Jeff Reisig in Yolo County. Here in San Francisco we had both Kamala Harris and George Gascon, who were very progressive DAs and they were progressive because they created new innovative programs to try to keep our young people out of the criminal justice system in the first place.”
He reiterated, “Those are true progressive prosecutors. Chesa has not developed a single new innovative program as DA to reform or rehabilitate.”
Corriea responded, “Well I’m looking at five pages of accomplishment that hurt your eyes to look at, if even a third of these were accurate, the idea that he hasn’t implemented any new ideas—I don’t know how you can say that.”
Lagos came back to this question.
“You brought up Nancy O’Malley, folks can disagree about whether she could be considered progressive, but I never see her name come up when we talk about the Oakland Murder Rate, why is it fair to lay sort of every ill of this city at one person’s feet… Another example, Anne Marie Schubert was not blamed in Sacramento when that horrific killing happened a few weeks ago. Why, why should we believe that one man is responsible for this?”
Du Bain said he’s worked for over 30 years as a prosecutor, and “I’ve never been in an office until I worked for Chesa Boudin, where I saw nearly half the prosecutors in the office, walk off the job and leave the office. That’s a stunning departure and a number of career prosecutors who have left under his management.”
He added that “you’re not going to get every decision, right, but you should at least be able to face the public and explain to the public why you made such a decision. Now, to my knowledge, Chesa Boudin, for example, has never directly addressed why he let Troy McAllister out of custody after sitting in custody for five years under George Gascon facing a life sentence and cutting him loose.”
Corriea responded, “Troy McAllister’s case was referred to parole for revocation and the ball, as I understand it was dropped somewhere along the way. And I think that the DA took responsibility for that and there was some agreement to improve the system.”
In response to whether the pro-recall side is calling for a tough-on-crime DA, Brooke Jenkins responded, “I don’t think we are calling for a tough on crime DA. What we’re calling for is a competent DA, a DA that, that places as a priority public safety.” She said, “Even the most progressive of prosecutors in the DA’s office under Chesa have walked off the job.”
Following it up, Lagos said that “it feels like all of the specific examples we hear from the Yes side are very much about the idea that you disagree with a specific decision that was made at a moment in the system.”
Jenkins responded, “It is not simply prison or release. There’s a whole gamut in between that we can take advantage of—that’s not being used right now.”
Hollins responded, “Tough on crime failed, check the stats. Too many people died under tough on crime, including people close to me. It did not keep our community safe. It’s already been proven to fail, and it’s hard for anyone to implement anything new if they spend the first two years of their job, defending the ability to do their job.”
That concluded the moderator questions.