San Francisco police are pulling out of an agreement with District Attorney Chesa Boudin that made the prosecutor’s office the lead investigator of all police shootings in the city.
In a letter Wednesday, Police Chief Bill Scott notified Boudin that his department would be withdrawing from the agreement over allegations that a DA investigator felt pressured to withhold evidence in a case against an officer accused of using excessive force.
Scott’s letter is the latest instance of the chief increasingly distancing himself from Boudin in recent months under mounting pressure from rank-and-file officers, and as the June recall election against the progressive prosecutor approaches. Boudin was noticeably absent from a press conference last week where the chief and Mayor London Breed announced a more than 500% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.
In his letter, Scott said “very serious concerns” were brought to his attention about last week’s testimony by investigator Magen Hayashi in the case against Officer Terrance Stangel, who is scheduled to stand trial next week for allegedly beating a man with a baton while responding to a domestic violence call at Fisherman’s Wharf in 2019.
Scott accused the District Attorney’s Office of violating the terms of the agreement by withholding evidence from his department.
“It appears that the DA’s Office has an ongoing practice of investigations against SFPD officers that includes withholding and concealing information and evidence the SFPD is entitled to have to further ancillary criminal investigations,” Scott wrote in the letter.
The chief doubled down on his comments at the Police Commission meeting Wednesday evening.
“The spirit of that MOU is fairness, transparency, cooperation and an agreement that works for all concerned parties, including the police officers,” Scott said. “Nobody is afraid of accountability. Nobody is afraid of oversight. Not me, not the members of this department. What I am asking for is a process that is fair.”
Scott only renewed the agreement on police shooting investigations with Boudin last July. It was first crafted under former District Attorney George Gascón to ensure that all police shootings, in-custody deaths and other critical incidents are investigated independently in San Francisco. The agreement requires the department to immediately notify prosecutors after an incident occurs and makes the DA the lead investigator on interviews of involved officers.
In response to the letter, Rachel Marshall, a spokesperson for Boudin, said it was “disappointing but no coincidence SFPD chose to withdraw from this agreement during the first-ever trial against an on-duty San Francisco police officer for an unlawful beating.”
“San Franciscans deserve to be safe—including from unwarranted police violence,” Marshall said. “This decision from SFPD makes clear that the agency is more concerned with satisfying its union members than protecting the safety of San Franciscans.”
Hiyashi testified after a defense attorney for Stangel, Nicole Pifari, filed a motion seeking to dismiss all charges against him alleging prosecutorial misconduct. But the judge presiding over the case, Teresa Caffese, said she saw no indication that prosecutors withheld any evidence that would have benefitted Stangel.
The chief's letter spurred a heated back-and-forth with Police Commissioner John Hamasaki at the commission meeting late Wednesday, when Hamasaki accused Scott of tampering with the jury in the Stangel case by releasing the letter this week.
“It had to be dropped right in front of the trial where one of your officers is being charged for beating a Black man, breaking his bones and you want to put out propaganda press releases trying to muddy the water chief?” Hamasaki said.
The discussion erupted into an argument with Scott accusing Hamasaki of being “out of line.” The chief said the letter wasn’t about the Stangel trial, but rather to ensure that investigations into police shootings are fair for officers.
Michael Barba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org