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News + PoliticsWhy it matters that Boudin is charging a cop with manslaughter

Why it matters that Boudin is charging a cop with manslaughter

The DA's unprecedented decision sends a message that the police can't kill people with impunity.


The last time I bought a Playboy Magazine was in 1993. I couldn’t believe it cost $5.

I forked over my money, though, because it had a fascinating article by Vince Bugliosi, the Los Angeles lawyer, author, and most famously prosecutor in the Charles Manson case.

District Attorney Chesa Boudin meeting with reporters before he was sworn in.

The subject was police abuse, and Bugliosi (who ran twice for DA in LA and lost both times) argued that the reason so many cops (mostly white) kill so many (mostly Black) people is the district attorneys let them get away with it.

Internal police investigations and discipline rarely work, he said. But if DAs would routinely file criminal charges against killer cops, they wouldn’t be able to act with impunity. And, he argued, the worst of the killings would stop.

I was in the middle of a series of stories about a white BART police officer shooting and killing an unarmed Black man in Hayward. Jerrold Hall, who was 19, was walking away from the officer when he was shot in the back of the head with a shotgun.

BART cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, and put him back on the streets.

The Alameda County district attorney did nothing.

So I was fascinated that a former prosecutor would make the argument that sometimes, criminal charges are the only way to ensure police accountability, and I’ve quoted it many times since.

But none of the previous DAs I’ve followed in this city – including Terence Hallinan, a progressive former defense lawyer, Kamala Harris, who is now the vice-president elect, and George Gascon, who just won the job in LA running as a reformer – ever filed a single charge against a single cop. Although there were plenty of cases that advocates said rose to the level of criminal conduct.

And now, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has taken an unprecended step and charged an officer who shot and killed an unarmed man who was running away with manslaughter.

Officer Christopher Samayoa sot and killed Keita O’Neil in the Bayview in 2017. O’Neil had allegedly carjacked a van and led cops on a chase before jumping out and fleeing. Samayoa fired through the open window of his squad car, hitting the suspect in the head and killing him.

O’Neil was not armed and, according to Boudin, posed no immediate threat to the officers.

The killing was one of a series of police shootings that have outraged community leaders and led to calls for more use-of-force reforms.

In a statement at the time of the filing, Boudin said, “I hope the message people take is that no one is above the law, that we enforce the law equally in San Francisco without regard to the color of your skin, how much money you have in your bank account or to whether you wear a uniform to work.”

He added:

For too long, we have seen the failures of our legal system to hold police accountable for the violence committed against the members of the public they are entrusted to keep safe.  In my administration, police officers are not above the law .Police officers are obligated to follow the law when using force—even when responding to serious crimes.  As District Attorney, I will continue to hold accountable officers who inflict unlawful violence and breach the trust the public places in them.

The move will further infuriate the Police Officers Association and other Boudin critics, who have been attacking the DA furiously. But it will also send a message to local law-enforcement:

You can’t just shoot people without justification and get away with it.

This is a huge step for San Francisco, a city that for all its progressive traditions can’t seem to get its rogue police force under control.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. h.

    Trump U? That’s nasty, and disappointing coming from you.
    Lies? Jan 12 KQED – “Boudin fires 7 experienced prosecutors 2nd day on the job”
    Nov 17 SF Examiner “Boudin says “Severe understaffing impacting DA’s office”
    Dec 17 SF Chronicle “Assault charges against a man who …slammed a bottle into a San Francisco police officer’s face were withdrawn Friday”
    FYI – The DA’s office pays David Campos $240,000 per year plus benefits to not prosecute cases.
    I’m not saying this case doesn’t warrant prosecution, but these other facts do matter when assessing the performance of the man who is managing the DA’s office.

  2. Campers,

    Good work, Chesa.

    ‘Richmondman’ … You a grad of Trump University?

    Virtually everything in your comment was a lie.

    You’re better than that.

    How about the Niners yesterday?


  3. Actually cops kill more white people than black in the US. Disproportionately more black people, yes, but blue trumps red, white, black or yellow.

  4. What matters also is that while he complains about inadequate staffing levels to prosecute current crimes, he fired a bunch on prosecutors on his first day on the job, and is spending big bucks to have a professional politician (Campos) run the DA’s office, so he can go on TV and advocate for his step parents, who are serving time for murdering a cop.
    What matters also is that he dropped charges on a guy who, unprovoked, smashed a vodka bottle in the face of a cop that occurred while he was DA, but digs up an old case to prosecute a cop that Gascon didn’t feel warranted prosecution.

  5. “The killing was one of a series of police shootings that have outraged community leaders and led to calls for more use-of-force reforms.”

    Which “community leaders” were outraged at the shootings? In general, the paid staffers mouth platitudes lamenting killings but decline to use their power to change much of anything. Nobody held successive DAs accountable. The volunteer activists are the ones who have been sounding the alarm about SFPD abuses and leading the charge on taking charge of an action campaign to make that happen. This horrifies the professional “community leaders,” who have organized to silence grassroots young POC activists demanding defunding.

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