By: Christien Kafton , Henry Lee and KTVU staff
SAN FRANCISCO - California State Attorney General Rob Bonta, on Thursday, decided against prosecuting a then-rookie San Francisco Police Department officer, who fatally shot Keita O'Neil, an unarmed Black man, at a San Francisco housing development in 2017.
Now the officer involved is speaking out for the first time.
On Dec. 1, 2017, former SFPD officer Christopher Samayoa, was riding as a passenger in a patrol vehicle as police were in pursuit of O'Neil, a carjacking suspect. Samayoa shot O'Neil through the moving police vehicle's windshield, killing him at a Bayview housing project. The officer was fired.
The case has been subject to much legal back and forth.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins argued the case was filed for political reasons by her predecessor, D.A. Chesa Boudin. Boudin has denied this. A judge accepted the dismissal but stayed her ruling.
In State A.G. Bonta's letter to Jenkins, he wrote, "After further review of the evidence, your office filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Officer Samayoa because, as set forth in your February 8, 2023, letter to the Attorney General which was appended to the motion to dismiss, you stated, ‘[i]t appears that the case was filed for political reasons and not in the interests of justice…Given the conflicts that have arisen, the evidentiary problems, and the complete lack of good faith surrounding the filing of this matter, we cannot ethically proceed with this prosecution.’"
In March, a San Francisco Superior Court judge granted Bonta's office three months to review the shooting, giving his office time to decide if he would prosecute the former officer.
An attorney for Keita O'Neil's family, who was previously optimistic that the state would prosecute the officer, now criticized the attorney general's announcement.
"We are devastated by Mr. Bonta's decision to let another murderous cop go free without a trial or even a preliminary hearing," said lawyer Brian Ford. "We call on Mr. Bonta to open the file and make all of the evidence public instead of cherry-picking evidence that could easily be refuted in court."
Bonta's office said they have now thoroughly reviewed this case. The shooting dates back to when George Gascon was district attorney. His successor, Boudin, then filed charges, and Jenkins took over when Boudin was recalled.
"After concluding this comprehensive and thorough review and considering the applicable laws, we conclude that based on all of the evidence available at this time, and considering all likely defenses, the charges against Officer Samayoa cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," Bonta wrote. Ultimately he said the D.A.'s dismissal of the case is not an abuse of discretion.
Samayoa spoke to KTVU on Friday. "It was a tragedy, that's all I can say. It was a tragedy that day. It should have never happened, right? I mean, that day should have never happened. I should have been helping people in a different manner. But, I'm happy this decision was made, because it was the right decision, ultimately," Samayoa said.
Ford said the charges were warranted. "I've often said he could have charged first-degree murder if he went that way." He added, "The statute of limitations for murder doesn't exist. There is no statute, and on voluntary manslaughter there's another three years. So, San Francisco has time to put in a new DA and make sure that happens."
An attorney for Samayoa reacted by saying Jenkins and her team was "push back on the Boudin rhetoric."
"The legitimacy of her decision is only reinforced by Mr. Bonta's office. Chris Samayoa can now get back to the life he is so deserving of. This case is a watershed reminder of why Boudin was recalled and that it is a new day in San Francisco," Samayoa's attorney Julia Fox said.
April Green, O'Neil's aunt, has steadfastly pushed for prosecution and says the attorney general's decision sets a dangerous precedent
"Now they can start shooting the rest of our Black men and it's justifiable? Because Bonta's not going to do anything," Green said.
For now, the attorney representing the O'Neil family says they are weighing their options, considering whether to appeal to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The City of San Francisco has already paid a $2.5 million settlement to O'Neil's family.