By Perla Brito
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – George Bisharat, former trial lawyer and Professor of Law at UC College of the Law, San Francisco, finds SF District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’ move to dismiss charges in an SFPD shooting as “an injustice…that will reverberate in this community for years to come.”
As Bisharat relates in a SF Chronicle Op-Ed, San Francisco police officer Christopher Samayoa was in the passenger seat of a patrol car on Dec. 1, 2017 when he and his partner received a notice of a carjacking. They led a high-speed pursuit that ended when the suspected stolen van turned onto a dead-end street.
In the suspected stolen van was 42-year-old Keita O’Neil. O’Neil jumped out of the driver’s door of the still-moving van and ran past the patrol car. Samayoa shot O’Neil.
Bisharat notes it was only Samayoa’s fourth day as a police officer and he “had just shot and killed an unarmed Black man in San Francisco.”
According to Bisharat, “Samayoa later claimed that he had seen O’Neil reach for his waistband and feared that he was pulling a weapon,” yet neither police body-worn camera footage nor other witnesses support Samayoa’s claim.
The author also argues “deadly force was not necessary” to stop O’Neil because he was unarmed and the bullet wound on the side of his neck suggests he was “fleeing, not attacking.”
The decision of whether to charge Samayoa or not was up to former SF DA Chesa Boudin, who charged Samayoa with voluntary manslaughter and several other lesser charges, according to the SF Chronicle).
Boudin was recalled in June and his successor, Jenkins, fired three attorneys staffing the Independent Investigation Bureau. They prosecuted cases of police violence, including the Samayoa case.
In addition, “Jenkins filed a motion to dismiss the case against Samayoa. That motion was granted on Wednesday,” said Bisharat.
The dismissal was stayed for one week by Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi to give California State Attorney general Rob Bonta time to consider whether to take over the prosecution of the case.
Bisharat believes, “The clear message will be this: Black men can be gunned down in San Francisco by police officers with impunity.”
Bisharat wrote the way the Jenkins administration has been handling the Samayoa case “has been shameful,” noting the problems began when new investigations bureau head Darby Williams went along with several defense motions to delay a preliminary hearing, where the facts of the killing would have been laid bare before the public.
In January “they disclosed internal discussions within Boudin’s office about the decision to charge Samayoa, characterizing it as evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, political bias and arguing that this set up a conflict of interest within the district attorney’s office,” said George Bisharat.
Except, “They failed to detail any actual wrongdoing on the part of Boudin or his team,” said the SF Chronicle).
Bisharat said he is aware Jenkins could have dismissed the case outright, but he believes “San Franciscans deserve straight talk from their highest law enforcement official, not bogus claims of a conflict designed to shirk responsibility for a politically charged claim.”
He added, “Attorney General Bonta still can enforce accountability for the apparently unjustified killing of O’Neil. The California Constitution grants broad authority for him to prosecute a local case any time he believes the law is not being adequately enforced, not just in situations of conflict.”