District Attorney Brooke Jenkins wants to dismiss charges against the first San Francisco cop ever prosecuted for killing someone while on duty—unless the state takes over the case.
Jenkins shared her intentions in a letter offering to give the California Attorney General's Office what she cast as a politically motivated case filed by her predecessor Chesa Boudin.
“It appears that the case was filed for political reasons and not in the interests of justice,” she wrote. “I cannot pursue this case out of political convenience. Given the conflicts that have arisen, the evidentiary problems and the complete lack of good faith surrounding the filing of this matter, we cannot ethically proceed with this prosecution. Therefore, it is our intention to dismiss the charges made in this case, unless the Attorney General’s Office decides to step in and take over the case,” she wrote.
Then-SFPD Officer Christopher Samayoa shot and killed Keita O’Neil on Dec. 1, 2017, and was charged three years later under Boudin.
When voters ousted Boudin in a 2022 recall, the Samayoa prosecution became one of a handful of police misconduct cases passed on to Jenkins.
With Jenkins came new leadership and a staffing exodus at the unit handling police prosecutions, a shakeup that stoked fears that cases like the one against Samayoa would be quietly dismissed.
Those fears have now been realized, the lawyer for O’Neil’s family told The Standard.
“Apart from being shameful and cowardly, the decision really just proves that she is more interested in protecting murderous cops and attacking Boudin than seeking justice for the citizens of San Francisco,” said Brian Ford, the lawyer for the victim’s family.
Boudin defended his charging decision.
"Jenkins' dismissal is offensive, and her excuses are dishonest," he told The Standard. "We charged this case based on the facts—the same facts that led the police department to fire the officer, led the judge to sign the arrest warrant and led the city to settle a multimillion dollar lawsuit with Keita O'Neil's family."
Boudin went on to accuse his successor of colluding with the defense and questioning his decisions to draw attention away from her own.
"It's clear Jenkins has been coordinating with the officer's defense team to avoid a public hearing on the disturbing facts of the case," Boudin said. "She is scapegoating me to try to divert attention from what this decision ultimately reveals about her: Jenkins will not hold everyone equally accountable under the law, she is deeply politically motivated and she does not care about victims of police violence."
Jenkins' letter falls short of asking the AG to take over, which is what O’Neil’s family requested Thursday because of a conflict they felt would prevent fair prosecution.
“We ask you to intervene now because San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and her Office are conflicted in the prosecution, and are presently betraying the public trust by failing to ensure that Samayoa is legally held accountable for crimes he committed while in uniform and under color of law,” Ford wrote in his own missive to AG Rob Bonta. “This decision confirms the conflict we were inferring.”
O’Neil’s aunt, April Green, meanwhile, said she’s beyond disappointed in the potential dismissal, which she only found out about when Jenkins called her over Zoom call earlier in the day.
“I told her I shouldn't be surprised,” Green said. “I’m gonna fight her with everything in me.”
The letters to the AG echo arguments both sides in the case have brought up in court.
Last month's decision to delay a preliminary hearing for the second time came after Samayoa’s lawyer Michael Rains said moving the case along would amount to prosecutorial misconduct.
Rains contended as much in a motion saying the case lacks evidence and was politically motivated. The defense lawyer also noted how two DA investigators— Jeffrey Pailet and Daniel Lundberg—objected to prosecuting Samayoa because the charges would be hard to prove.
Ford’s letter to the AG says Boudin fired Pailet, who went on to sue the city with help from a law firm that represents Lundberg and Samayoa.
Ford said the opinions of two investigators aren’t enough to prove that Samayoa was treated unfairly
“The motion does not state once how or in what way exculpatory evidence might have been withheld from the defense,” Ford told the AG. “The opinions of the DA inspectors are not ‘evidence,’ and they are not relevant, nor are they exculpatory.”
Green said she’s troubled by where the case seems to be headed.
“The conflict is that the Jenkins administration is more interested in investigating and possibly prosecuting Chesa Boudin’s administration rather than the administration of justice,” Ford told The Standard, adding that he had concerns about how and when the DA decided to disclose the new details to the defense and then used that information as rational for dismissing the case.
Neither the District Attorney’s Office nor Samayoa's attorney responded to requests for comment.
Jenkins’ letter to the AG said her office won’t decide whether to dismiss any charges until the case comes back to court on March 1.
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org