Days after firing the head of a unit that investigates police shootings, newly appointed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has named a successor who plans to review all open cases against police officers.
Darby Williams will replace Lateef Gray as the managing attorney of the Internal Affairs Bureau, Jenkins announced Thursday. The bureau, known as IIB, is a specialized unit that probes police shootings, beatings and in-custody deaths to decide whether to clear officers or criminally charge them.
The move is part of a broader staffing shakeup that began July 15 when Jenkins fired more than a dozen attorneys and employees, including Gray, who were hired by her predecessor Chesa Boudin. Jenkins also promoted local prosecutors Julius DeGuia and Gregory Flores as the chief of the criminal division and head of the Post-Conviction Unit, which examines old cases to decide whether to resentence defendants, respectively.
“I know that these leaders are committed to advancing smart policies that will improve the criminal justice system while ensuring safety throughout our city,” Jenkins said in a prepared statement.
Since Mayor London Breed appointed her as top prosecutor July 8, Jenkins has pledged to strike a balance between reform and public safety—a goal she criticized Boudin for failing to do.
Williams, who identifies as a progressive prosecutor, said she is the right person for the job because of her “inherent belief in equity and ethics.”
“I truly have a sensibility about what is fair and what is not fair, what is right and what is not right,” Williams said. “And I have never hesitated to stand up for anything that I saw or believed that was not right either happening in court, happening in the street or happening in the community.”
Williams said she plans to take a “deep dive” into all open cases that the office filed against officers under Boudin. Those cases include a rookie officer charged for fatally shooting a man through the window of a moving patrol car and an officer indicted for shooting a suspect who attacked him with a bottle.
“There’s a number of cases that are going to be very critical for me to review and to spend some time with,” Williams said. “I want to go in with a fresh set of eyes, my objective mindset.”
By replacing Gray with Williams, Jenkins trades one experienced former criminal defense attorney with another as the head of a unit that makes some of the most high-profile decisions in her office.
Williams worked for more than two decades as a public defender in Los Angeles, Solano and Santa Clara counties. She worked a brief stint in IIB under former District Attorney George Gascon before leaving the office for personal reasons in 2017. She went on to work as a deputy attorney general before Boudin hired her as an assistant district attorney assigned to the general felonies team in April.
Gray was a public defender and civil rights attorney who made a name for himself filing lawsuits against police for alleged misconduct. He was a controversial figure in the eyes of law enforcement, in part because of his career and also because of his marriage to Police Commissioner Cindy Elias, whose duties include disciplining officers and setting police policy.
Under Boudin and Gray, the IIB made the historic decision to put an officer on trial for allegedly using excessive force when he repeatedly struck a man with a baton while responding to a domestic violence 911 call in 2019. The officer, Terrance Stangel, was ultimately acquitted of assault and battery charges.
All of these cases may have contributed to heightened tensions between police and the District Attorney’s Office under Boudin.
On the eve of the IIB putting Stangel on trial in February, SFPD Chief Bill Scott threatened to pull out of an agreement that makes the unit the lead investigator of all critical incidents involving officers. The deal is a key piece of reform that ensures police shootings are investigated by an outside agency.
Scott’s threat led to him and Boudin trading allegations that each of the agencies failed to share information with the other while conducting parallel investigations into police cases. While Scott and Boudin began reworking the terms of the agreement behind closed doors with a mediator, Jenkins will now take over those negotiations.
Jenkins and Scott have already met to discuss the agreement and have extended it for another month so that incidents continue to be independently investigated, the chief said Wednesday at the Police Commission.
Williams said it’s critical that the agreement remains intact and that investigations by her unit proceed transparently and fairly.
“This is about restoring trust with the police department,” Williams said, “that the IIB is going to do what it’s ethically required to do.”
Williams begins her new role Aug. 1.
Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected]