Mayor London Breed appointed Brooke Jenkins to serve as San Francisco’s district attorney this summer, and the two have been politically joined at the hip ever since. But in a crucial decision Monday, the DA’s Office announced in court that it believes the mayor’s brother should not have his 44-year prison sentence changed after he was found guilty of murder in 2005.
In San Francisco Superior Court, Ana Gonzalez—the chief assistant district attorney, who serves as Jenkins' second-in-charge—announced that the office opposes Napoleon Brown’s resentencing.
The DA’s position came as a surprise to Brown’s attorney, Marc Zilversmit, who argued in court that the DA’s previous administration under Chesa Boudin had indicated its support for Brown’s resentencing request.
Zilversmit suggested the case has become a political football.
“I believe there is some evidence that the District Attorney’s Office is biased and is trying to use Mr. Brown’s case … (to prove) their independence from the mayor,” he said during the hearing.
Gonzalez recently took over the case from former prosecutor Arcelia Hurtado, who had previously indicated that the office would support Brown’s resentencing. Jenkins fired Hurtado in a purge of Boudin’s staff after she took over the office in July following a successful recall election.
Monday's hearing was held to see what kind of investigation the state Attorney General’s Office had undertaken. The SF district attorney’s office requested a review because of the possible conflict of interest after Mayor Breed’s appointment of Jenkins.
Brown’s resentencing case was pending when the mayor appointed Jenkins. She asked the Attorney General’s Office to take over the case, but officials said existing firewalls keeping Jenkins away from the case were sufficient.
On Monday, the AG’s Office reiterated this position.
“The fact that she’s appointed by the mayor does not indicate a relationship with her and Mr. Brown,” said Sharon Loughner, a deputy attorney general.
However, when Judge Brendan Conroy asked what investigation the AG’s Office conducted to find that no conflict existed, he was told that the attorney overseeing the case, Gonzalez, was the only person interviewed by the AG’s Office.
“You have done no investigation,” Conroy said to Loughner, who did not disagree.
Zilversmit, Brown's attorney, asked the court Monday to order the DA's Office to recuse itself.
Hurtado, who had been handling the Brown case until her termination, agreed with Zilversmit that the case has been politicized.
“The mayor’s appointed DA is desperate to make the public believe that she is not a mayoral puppet,” Hurtado said.
Mayor Breed’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the DA’s decision. In 2018, Breed sent then-Gov. Jerry Brown a letter requesting that he commute her brother’s sentence.
Jenkins’ office has said repeatedly that it set up a robust wall barring her from having any access to the case, as well as any decisions around it.
The details of the case, which are at the crux of the resentencing request, hinge on how a new law applies to Brown’s actions.
Brown was convicted in 2005 of murder, carjacking and robbery for a number of incidents that ended with his girlfriend dying after she was pushed out of a car on Golden Gate Bridge in 2000. Brown’s girlfriend died in a closed lane that a car had entered. He was sentenced to 44 years in prison. In a retrial granted because he was found to have had ineffective counsel, he pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter.
Earlier this year, a judge granted Brown a sentence review.
The law previously said that a defendant could be convicted of first-degree murder if someone died during the commission of a felony, regardless of any intent to kill. The new law narrows the definition of felony murder. It allows people convicted under these circumstances to petition for resentencing.
Gonzalez said that her office opposes the defense’s argument on this matter.
“We think he was the actual killer,” Gonzalez said. “If a person throws someone in front of a train, they are the actual killer.”
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]