From: Mission Local
By: ELENI BALAKRISHNAN, 1/27/2023
As expected, a California judge on Friday morning delayed the long-awaited hearing in former police officer Christopher Samayoa’s homicide case. In 2017, the rookie officer shot dead unarmed carjacking suspect Keita O’Neil.
The delay came on the heels of recently acquired evidence from the District Attorney’s office. The material in question, according to Samayoa’s defense attorney, Julia Fox, consists of new interviews conducted with DA investigators who worked on the case and the arrest warrant for Samayoa. Two of these investigators worked under former DA George Gascón, and another was assigned to the case by former DA Chesa Boudin.
In a court motion filed on Wednesday, attorney Michael Rains contended that former DA Chesa Boudin in 2020 committed “misconduct” when he put a new investigator on Samayoa’s case. That investigator, the filing contends, failed to include prior investigators’ findings in the subsequent arrest warrant.
Assistant DA Darby Williams acknowledged that she provided additional evidence to Fox last night, and did not object to the request to delay.
Samayoa, a rookie officer who was later dismissed from the San Francisco police force, faces five criminal charges for shooting O’Neil through the windshield of his police car. O’Neil had allegedly stolen a van and was fleeing when he was shot.
Samayoa and his attorney attended today’s hearing virtually.
O’Neil’s aunt, April Green, and her personal attorney, Brian Ford, have long accused the DA’s office of not doing enough to push the prosecution forward.
“It should be clear to everyone that the degree to which the DA’s Office does or does not dispute this frivolous motion will reflect whether they are seeking justice for all San Franciscans,” Ford wrote in a press release last night.
He further made the heady allegation that the DA is potentially “colluding with the defense to get a politically expedient outcome.”
Given an opportunity to speak in court today, Ford argued that the material Samayoa’s defense team contends should get the case thrown out of court — opinions of DA investigators on the viability of the prosecution — were not relevant to the case proceeding, and in practice would not even be heard during a trial.
“Given that the prosecution is not opposing the motion to continue, we are here … ” Ford said: DA investigators’ “opinions are irrelevant and inadmissible in any court of law.”
What new information may have been revealed in the interviews with investigators beyond their views is unclear. In his statement Thursday night, Ford said that the DA’s office failure to “vociferously oppose” a motion he denigrated as “completely frivolous” could indicate that the office is illicitly cooperating with Samayoa’s defense team.
He noted that four separate DAs have reviewed the case, and none have chosen to close the prosecution. Last month, Ford added, Williams agreed to move to a preliminary hearing.
Green made a tearful and impassioned plea that the court avoid further delays in the case that has dragged on for five years.
“That is just another distraction, another ploy to delay again,” Green said. O’Neil’s mother suffers from dementia, and Green expressed concern that she is now suffering from health problems, but is her nephew’s only family advocate. “I’m holding on and fighting to see this case through, to see justice has been served for our family.”
Green has asked the DA’s office to request that the office of Attorney General Rob Bonta step in and take over the case, to avoid any possible appearance of impropriety.
“Now we have a new DA that thinks differently, and she’s not standing with me right now. She’s not standing with me as a victim.” Green said.
Earlier Friday morning, Green addressed a crowd of supporters and press outside the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street: “These two interviews that recently took place already show the mishandling of his case — with [Jenkins’] hands all in the pot,” she said.
The DA’s office spokesperson Randy Quezada declined to comment on whether the DA’s office plans to ask the Attorney General to step in.
In the courtroom, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Loretta M. Giorgi was clearly frustrated, she but granted the continuance.
“Ms. Williams, why are we having all this discovery two years, going on three [years later]?” asked Giorgi of prosecutor Darby Williams, who is leading the case against Samayoa.
Williams claimed that the two investigators, including the one who wrote Samayoa’s arrest warrant in 2020, independently approached the DA’s office, indicating that they needed to discuss the Samayoa case.
One of those investigators, Williams said, claimed to be aware of an “internal issue that may negatively impact the decisions regarding the future of the case.”
“I’m not relishing this moment, I have prepared, I have subpoenaed witnesses … I spent the holidays preparing,” Williams said. She said that her office has not committed any violations, but suggested that there may have been violations by a prior DA administration.
The City Attorney’s office is separately conducting interviews with the same DA investigators, Williams said, and additional investigation would be needed as a result.
The judge called the delay “disappointing, but understandable,” but apparently believed the onus was on the DA’s office to move the case along faster.
“You’re ready, but I’m gonna put the pressure on your office a little bit, because this needs to move forward,” Giorgi said. To Ford and Green, Giorgi said the developments were serious. “We don’t want to be undoing something three years from now.”
Giorgi scheduled the preliminary hearing and the defense motion to dismiss the case for March 1.
Outside the courtroom on Friday, Green took the judge’s stance as a victory. “This judge has clearly had enough. Now there’s no more excuses.”
But she still had concerns. “I do question the relationship that’s going on with this current DA and Julia Fox. I question how they are side by side with one another, and the DA is not on my side.”