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SF Police Commission skewers Chief Scott for breaking reform agreement with DA Chesa Boudin

SFPD Chief Scott speaks on police response to the rise in AAPI hate crimes on Jan. 25, 2022. | Camille Cohen

A week after Police Chief Bill Scott called for an end to a reform agreement with District Attorney Chesa Boudin over who leads investigations into police shootings and other serious cases, the Police Commission seemed unwilling Wednesday to let the city’s top cop withdraw from the partnership.

In a three hour-long hearing that lasted until midnight, the commission grilled Scott on his reasons for pulling out of an agreement that is widely believed to be a key piece of police reform in San Francisco—and for announcing his decision in a press release just days before the trial of an officer Boudin charged with assault.

Commissioners blasted Scott for leaving the civilian oversight body in the dark on the decision, and the chief also took heat for pulling out of the partnership without having a backup plan in place. No other outside agency has stepped up to replace the district attorney as the lead investigator in charge of conducting the criminal investigations into police shootings, in-custody deaths and other use-of-force cases.

Both Scott and Boudin have accused the other side of violating the terms of the agreement, but Scott alleged a slew of new allegations Wednesday that he said show the District Attorney’s Office has an ongoing practice of withholding information related to investigations into officers who use force. But the commissioners were unmoved and urged Scott to work out his differences with Boudin.

“We need to find a way to come back to the table,” commission President Malia Cohen said. “It’s been a week. I am hopeful that cooler heads will prevail.”

Scott, who was facing a potential vote of no confidence from the police union last week, said his decision had nothing to do with pressure from the rank-and-file’s union. The chief said he felt compelled to take immediate action as word spread within the police force that a District Attorney’s Office investigator, Magen Hayashi, testified last month that she felt pressured to not share information with the police while investigating an officer for assault.

Scott said the department reached a “breaking point” upon learning of the allegations surrounding the investigation into Officer Terrance Stangel, who is now standing trial for allegedly using excessive force by beating a man with a baton. Officers lost confidence that the independent investigations into their conduct would be fair and impartial.

“These revelations caused an immediate collapse of trust,” Scott said.

Last week, Scott asked the California Department of Justice to step in and replace the District Attorney’s Office as the lead investigator of police shootings and other serious cases in San Francisco. On Wednesday, Attorney General Rob Bonta responded in a letter and statement offering to help Boudin and Scott “identify a pathway forward to enable their work to continue at the local level.”

Unless Scott and Boudin can settle their differences or the Police Commission takes action, the agreement is set to expire as soon as Feb. 17.

Commissioner Max Carter-Oberstone blasted Scott for planning to leave the partnership with no back-up plan in place.

“Pulling out of the [agreement] unilaterally is an absolute last resort, and I’m concerned, chief, it’s been used as a first resort,” Carter-Obertsone said.

Commissioner John Hamasaki said the commission would have no choice but to order the chief to remain in the agreement unless he negotiated with Boudin to keep the partnership alive. The commission scheduled another hearing on the agreement next Wednesday—before the agreement officially ends—for a possible vote.

“We are in a position where we either have to order you, which is not what anybody here wants to do, or you’re gonna have to come back into the fold,” Hamasaki said.

Scott and Boudin met behind closed doors to discuss their issues ahead of the commission hearing Wednesday, and they are expected to have a subsequent meeting. Among the options on the table is including a mediator in negotiations.

As the clock neared midnight, District Attorney Boudin called into the meeting during public comment to voice his frustration over the chief accusing him of violating the agreement in public before trying to talk with him. Earlier this week, Boudin fired back and accused the police of also violating the terms of the deal by not sharing information with the District Attorney’s Office.

“I don’t pick up my ball, walk off the field and go home,” Boudin said during the hearing. “I don’t go to the press. I call the chief, I try to work it out, and we had a really good and open channel of communication—until last week.”

The bottom line, Chief Scott said, is the department cannot be forced back into the same agreement that his officers have no confidence in to investigate them fairly. Remaining in the agreement would harm efforts to recruit and retain officers.

“What I am hearing from the Police Commission is to stay in a situation that your entire police department does not trust,” Scott said. “That has an impact on everything that we do.”