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Politics & Policy

SF’s new DA: Brooke Jenkins, ex-prosecutor who led Chesa Boudin recall, named his successor

Brooke Jenkins, San Francisco’s new District Attorney, speaks to the media following the announcement of her appointment to the position by Mayor London Breed on Thursday, July 7, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. Jenkins replaces Chesa Boudin, who was recalled by the voters of San Francisco. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Mayor London Breed has named Brooke Jenkins as San Francisco’s next district attorney. The announcement Thursday marks a clear rebuke of the progressive top prosecutor Jenkins led the effort to recall: Chesa Boudin.

Jenkins, a former assistant district attorney in San Francisco, became a figurehead for the movement to oust Boudin after leaving his office last October because she disagreed with his reform policies and management style.

Breed is expected to swear her in on Friday, Boudin’s last day in office after voters recalled him in a historic election last month.

Breed said that over the course of “countless” conversations about who to appoint as interim DA, Jenkins emerged as someone who stood apart. 

During a press conference at City Hall announcing her decision, the mayor touted Jenkins’ experience prosecuting hate crimes and her commitment to striking a balance between reform and accountability.

Jenkins “sacrificed her career to fight for people in this city—to fight for victims,” Breed told reporters. And she “comes from a place of fairness,” the mayor added: “This is not just about locking people up and throwing away the key.”

After the mayor’s address, Jenkins laid out a number of her top priorities: ending drug dealing on city streets, rebuilding a soured relationship with police, addressing property crime and holding criminals accountable. 

“We are at a tipping point in San Francisco,” she said. “San Franciscans do not feel safe and concerns around public safety have become their number one concern.”

But she was sure to mention that her emphasis on accountability would not reverse criminal justice reforms in her office. 

“Holding offenders accountable does not preclude us from moving forward with vital criminal justice reforms,” said Jenkins. “Accountability does not mean that we reject reform. I vow to this city to balance both.”

The decision to appoint Jenkins sets up what could become a bitter fight between her and Boudin this November, when voters decide who will finish the term ending in December 2023. Boudin, a progressive prosecutor and former public defender, has not ruled out trying to reclaim his seat.

Breed chose Jenkins over a large pool of potential appointees that included Nancy Tung, a former San Francisco prosecutor and 2019 candidate for the office who sought to improve representation for the Asian community, and Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a staunch supporter of law enforcement.

Law enforcement expressed support for Jenkins, too, after the mayor announced her appointment. In a statement shared with reporters Thursday evening, the executive board of the San Francisco Police Officers Association called Jenkins a “qualified, competent, and compassionate prosecutor who will allow San Francisco to turn the page from the previous criminal defense attorney masquerading as the DA.”

“We urge Ms. Jenkins to fairly hold criminal offenders accountable, provide compassion for those in the criminal justice system who need and deserve it, and to strongly protect and assist crime victims seeking justice,” the police union board continued. “We all want a safer San Francisco, and we are committed to doing our part.”

By appointing Jenkins, Breed chose a political newcomer who shares life experience with the mayor as a Black woman affected by violence and the criminal justice system. Breed grew up poor in the Western Addition and has a brother serving a prison sentence for manslaughter, while a relative of Jenkins’ husband was recently shot and killed.

Jenkins, 40, joined the District Attorney’s Office in late 2014 to diversify the role of a prosecutor, according to public records and statements she made during a May debate over the recall. Jenkins is Black and Latina and lives in Mission Bay. She spent seven years in the office and was promoted by Boudin to work in the homicide unit. 

Jenkins never intended to oppose Boudin when he ran for office in 2019, she said, but realized that he never took off his hat as a former public defender. She said he put the interests of defendants before the rights of victims.

Jenkins has blasted Boudin for failing to balance reforming the criminal justice system with holding perpetrators accountable.

“If people begin to believe that reform entails lawlessness, they will begin to oppose the very reforms that our system really needs,” Jenkins said in an advertisement supporting the recall.

While Jenkins has positioned herself as a progressive prosecutor who would strike that balance, critics have attacked her for claiming that title.

Issues as Prosecutor

A number of cases handled by Jenkins have raised questions about whether she acted out of line, according to attorneys involved and documents. 

Her last case was the murder trial of Daniel Gudino, who allegedly killed his mother while he was in a severe mental health crisis in which he thought she was a demon, according to records reviewed by The Standard.

Jenkins sought to send Gudino to prison for life instead of a mental health facility even after she lost her bid to declare him sane. When the District Attorney’s Office declined to proceed with a retrial on the insanity portion of the case, Jenkins did not show up to court, according to transcripts. She resigned that same day, saying publicly that she had been undermined by her superiors. 

“I would like every San Francisco voter to be aware that Mrs. Jenkins is not progressive and tried very hard, at great taxpayer expense, to send a severely mentally ill man with no record, and no history of violence, to state prison for the rest of his life,” said Deputy Public Defender Ilona Solomon, who represented Gudino.

Solomon said Jenkins wanted to retry the insanity phase of the case based on the testimony of her expert. When that didn’t happen, Jenkins abandoned the case.  

According to documents reviewed by The Standard, that expert testified that he’d worked almost exclusively as a witness for the San Francisco District Attorney. Solomon said she was unable to find one case in which he had testified that he found any defendants insane. 

In another case involving a young child who was allegedly molested by her stepfather Antonio Carter-Bibbs, Jenkins was alleged to have coached the young girl before she testified. While the judge in the case did not find that Jenkins coached the girl, she was told to stop such preparation with the witness. The jury acquitted Carter-Bibbs on most charges. 

A third case involved the prosecution of Sincere Pomar, who has been accused of attempted murder for the killing of Jerome Mallory, a relative of Jenkins.

Although she did not directly work on the case, Jenkins commented on aspects of it after she left the office, which may indicate she had access to case material she might not have been privy to as a prosecutor. 

At Thursday’s press conference announcing her appointment, Jenkins defended her record. “I have served as an ethical and fair prosecutor,” she said, “and have never been proven otherwise.”