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The War Between SF Police, DA Chesa Boudin Is Finally Out in the Open
Monday, July 04, 2022

The War Between SF Police, DA Chesa Boudin Is Finally Out in the Open

District Attorney Chesa Boudin has been on a collision course with the San Francisco Police Department and its supporters ever since voters signed off on his progressive agenda in 2019. But the long-simmering dispute between the city’s top prosecutor and police came to a head in stunning fashion this week, as they traded accusations of withholding evidence and putting public safety at risk.

Under pressure from the rank and file, Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday abruptly pulled out of an agreement that put the District Attorney’s Office in charge of investigating all police shootings, in-custody deaths and other critical incidents in the city. He accused the District Attorney’s Office of violating the terms of the agreement by withholding evidence in a case against an officer accused of using excessive force.

The dissolution of the agreement over police shootings appears to be a flashpoint in what was always expected to be a war between two of San Francisco’s top law enforcement agencies. In 2019, Boudin was elected as part of a national wave of progressive prosecutors elected on platforms that sought to reduce mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system. He promised to charge dirty cops and make petty crimes less of a priority, which law enforcement feared would lead to increased lawlessness and put a target on officers’ backs.

But in the year and a half since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, followed by months of protests and calls to defund the police, the pendulum on public safety appears to be swinging back in San Francisco after a series of flash-mob burglaries garnered national attention. The anti-Boudin forces coalesced last year and he’s now facing a recall election in June for following through on the very things he promised to do during his campaign.

Chief Scott’s letter removed any doubt where he stands on the matter. But what few people outside of the police department knew at the time is that the chief was on trial himself.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association was scheduled to consider a no-confidence vote on the chief’s performance just one day after he sent his letter. Some union leaders called for the vote last weekend, after two departing officers sent department-wide emails saying they felt unsupported by the chief—in part, for not speaking out about the trial against Officer Terrance Stangel.

The union ended up cancelling the vote Thursday morning after Scott severed the department’s agreement with the DA’s Office.

“You can’t ignore the timing of this,” said retired ACLU attorney John Crew, a longtime police watchdog in San Francisco. “It’s pretty obvious what brought him to this point. He is under enormous pressure internally from the POA.”

SFPOA President Tony Montoya confirmed that the union planned to “discuss leadership within the police department” at a meeting Thursday night, but said the meeting was cancelled because “people had time to reflect.”

He added that the chief’s decision was “the right thing” to do but had nothing to do with politics and was not connected to the union’s vote.

“The POA has no influence over Bill Scott, that’s very apparent, because over the years we have been at odds,” said Montoya.

The agreement between the DA’s Office and police is important because it ensures there are independent investigations into police shootings. It was first crafted as a reform measure in response to a series of deadly police shootings by San Francisco police in 2015 and 2016. Scott said he has reached out to the California Department of Justice to explore alternative options for independent investigations.

Crew said the chief’s decision to withdraw from the agreement without first consulting the Police Commission could be the most overt and consequential attacks on civilian oversight the city has seen in decades. The department announced the chief’s decision in a press release, which Crew viewed as a coordinated political attack considering Boudin is facing a recall election.

“I do not recall a police chief and a police department becoming so overtly political and that’s why I think this is a threat to the rule of law,” Crew said. “If they are allowed to say that we are going to use the power of the police department for political purposes, we are in big trouble.”

As recently as last summer, Scott and Boudin had a cordial if not tenuous relationship, as the pair filmed a public service announcement against anti-Asian hate crimes. 

“Together, we will make San Francisco safe,” the duo said in unison.

That tune began to change by the winter, after a night of smash-and-grab burglaries in Union Square before Thanksgiving drew national attention. The chief and Mayor London Breed held a joint press conference at City Hall the next month to declare a public safety emergency in the Tenderloin, and the latter said she was done with the “bullshit.”

Last week, Mayor Breed and Chief Scott noticeably held two press conferences on crime in the city without Boudin. One of those pressers, which announced a 560% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, was intentionally delayed so media members could also attend another news conference where a Vietnamese American man announced he was filing a lawsuit against Boudin for not protecting his civil rights as the victim of an alleged hate crime.

Police Commissioner John Hamasaki, the most vocal critic of Scott on the civilian body, said the chief’s decision to break the agreement with the DA’s Office on certain investigations is an extension of the tough-on-crime narrative Breed and police touted in December.

“This is the result of a long campaign by the police union against the chief to try and bend him to their will,” Hamasaki said. “Over the last six months, we’ve seen indications that this was coming.

“But I honestly did not expect it to come like this.”

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At a Police Commission meeting Wednesday, Hamasaki accused Scott of trying to tamper with the jury in the Stangel case by announcing the decision so publicly instead of discussing his issues in private with Boudin.

Chief Scott declined an interview request Friday, but during Wednesday’s meeting he defended his actions, saying his letter was prompted by the District Attorney’s Office violating the terms of the agreement.

At issue for Scott is the testimony of Magen Hayashi, an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office who was part of the team investigating whether Officer Stangel committed a crime by repeatedly striking a man with a baton while responding to a 911 call reporting domestic violence in 2019.

Last week, a defense attorney for Stangel called Hayashi to the stand as part of a motion to dismiss the case due to prosecutorial misconduct. Hayashi said she felt pressured to leave out information about the reported domestic violence from an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant for Stangel.

Hayashi also said she did not tell a police investigator—who was conducting a parallel investigation into the reported domestic violence—about an interview she did with a witness to the incident. She said there was an “understanding” her unit did not share information with police. That interview occurred in December 2019—which Boudin’s supporters note was before he became DA.

A judge ruled that Hayashi’s testimony would not have benefited Stangel in his case.

Boudin fired back at the chief in a press conference of his own Thursday. While there is a gag order on the Stangel case that prevents the prosecutor from addressing certain allegations from Scott, Boudin said there was no evidence of any alleged prosecutorial misconduct. He also questioned why the chief did not discuss any of the alleged violations of the agreement with him instead of “politicizing” the issue.

Regardless, Scott said, the testimony shows the DA’s Office violated their agreement, which requires both agencies to share information with each other that is relevant to investigations.

Boudin said it was “no coincidence” the chief’s letter arrived ahead of the Stangel case going to trial next week. He also noted that the chief’s decision to pull out of the agreement will put public safety at risk, as police shootings have gone down since it was signed.

“I think the decision and the fact that the recall is on the ballot in June make something very clear, and that’s what voters are voting on in June,” Boudin said. “It’s not about my tenure in office. It’s about police accountability.”

Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected].
  • Michael: Boudin won the election in early November 2019. Didn’t he tell Suzy that if he won the election he was going to take over the DA’s office immediately? Didn’t Suzy agree that if he won the election he would take over immediately? Boudin wasn’t sworn in until January 2020 but wasn’t he making the decisions before then? Please get clarification from Suzy as to what was Boudin’s control over the DA’s office before January 2020. I’d ask you to ask Boudin but I really can’t trust anything that he says without having it confirmed by a non-biased source.

  • The MOU is between the police department and DA what does the union have to do with it? Again the police chief didn’t ask the police commission for permission to enter in to the MOU so he certainly doesn’t need to ask for it to terminate it. It’s hard to dispute the police chief for getting out of it because of the testimony from the DA’s employee, under oath. So what two people have their opinions about the police chief, who doesn’t at some point not like there boss, given everything that has happened in the past couple of years people are quitting their jobs. I bet the two who wrote the letter left probably because they weren’t going to get vaccinated and decided to air their gripes on their way out the do, so what, who cares. People should care about their safety and frankly the DA ain’t cutting it and neither is the school board so good riddance to them all because they don’t care about San Francisco.

  • Campers,

    I was a Reform School teacher in one capacity or other for 40 years.

    Taught kids who killed their parents.

    One who killed an SF cop ten years later.

    I was born and raised in the projects in St. Louis.

    I have a Masters degree in Special Ed. for working with ‘Severely Emotionally Disturbed’.

    Clemson University fellowship.

    I was controversial so they brought me back and paid for my Masters.

    My thesis was on Distance Learning arguing that my professors were superfluous.

    I’m 77 years old and I think I feel I mean, like I’ve spent half of my life in courtrooms.

    On tv and then the internet and in person when Gonzo or Adachi did a murder trial.

    Chesa Boudin has come through the fires.

    He’s been attacked by underlings his entire life.

    I think this kid who just turned 41 for God’s sake, is the best constitutional reform lawyer I’ve ever seen and now he’s in a position to do cases of ‘First Impression’.

    Those are cases that create new law and they are rare as hens teeth.

    Think Marbury v Madison which enshrined Judicial Review.

    Think Brown v Topeka School Board (yes, another School Board case) …

    Thurgood Marshall was the winning lawyer in ‘Brown’ which established school desegregation as the law nationally.

    Boudin has been the work horse on the next huge move in American jurisprudence along with Matt Gonzalez and Jeff Adachi brought him into the Public Defender’s office and George Gascon joined their fight.

    To abolish cash bail.

    You’re talking a thousand years of English law tossed to finally achieve fairness here.

    That’s a case of First Impression.

    He’s a leader in dropping the ‘Special Enhancement’ additions to sentences that affect mostly Black and Brown people who live in bad neighborhoods and feel they must belong to gangs.

    And, other additions just to make more money for the largest Prison-Industrial Complex in the world.

    This isn’t just about whether some cop who hits some guy upside his head cause the cop simply likes to beat up people.

    This is about the future of American Justice and whether we move forward or go back.

    Go Giants!


    • Well said. The psycho-social-economic factors that foster criminal behavior are numerous and often intertwined. The decision-making processes, practices and policies of law enforcement — police and DA — and the relationship between them should not be one of them.

    • Love Boudin as much as you can now, because in June of this year he will be recalled. He has failed to do his job as a prosecutor, and the city has suffered because of it. Good riddance when he’s gone…

  • Boudin is a criminal because like Robin Hood, who was also a criminal, he refuses to acknowledge that victims’ rights are paramount over those of the victimizers. The notion that criminals have free will doesn’t exist in his worldview. They are all victims of the racist capitalist system. His parents were not criminals, they were taking stolen money and were going to give it to its rightful owners. The “pigs” that got killed were the criminals. That is how Boudin was brought up by Ayers, a very dangerous ideologue.

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