From: SF Chronicle
By: Rachel Swan
California Attorney General Rob Bonta has declined to prosecute a former San Francisco police officer accused of shooting and killing a man during a chase in the Bayview in 2017, saying the case cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a letter to San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, Bonta explained his decision not to pursue charges after reviewing video footage, witness statements, crime scene photographs, autopsy reports and other evidence of the deadly encounter between Keita O’Neil, 42, and Officer Christopher Samayoa, who had just graduated from the academy and started field training on Dec. 1, 2017, the day of the incident.
Had the case gone to trial, Samayoa would probably have argued that he acted “in self-defense and to apprehend a fleeing felon,” Bonta said in his letter, noting the prosecution’s burden to anticipate and disprove these defenses.
“Here, if believed by a jury, Officer Samayoa’s recorded statements satisfy the elements of self-defense,” Bonta wrote, citing a statement Samayoa had made in the police investigation of the shooting.
Jenkins filed a motion to drop the prosecution of Samayoa in February, saying that her predecessor, ousted District Attorney Chesa Boudin, had filed the manslaughter charges for political purposes.
She turned the case over to Bonta, who said he considered all applicable laws and “all likely defenses” before declining to file charges. O’Neil’s aunt, April Green, had also asked Bonta to intervene. Ultimately, the attorney general’s team concluded “that the decision to dismiss the case against Officer Samayoa is not an abuse of discretion.”
The O’Neil shooting, which spurred an outcry in San Francisco, came at the end of a frenetic pursuit. It began when O’Neil allegedly snatched car keys from a state lottery worker on Potrero Hill, pushed her to the ground and sped off in her white minivan. Police tried to stop the van on Highway 101 in the Bayview, then chased it into the Alice Griffith public housing complex, where O’Neil fled on foot.
He ran by a patrol cruiser driven by Edric Talusan, a field training officer. Samayoa, who was in the passenger seat, opened the side door and shot through the window, striking O’Neil in the head. Police said O’Neil was unarmed. Neither officer activated his body-worn camera before the episode — an apparent violation of policy. Samayoa turned his on immediately afterward.
Samayoa, who was later fired, said he witnessed O’Neil reaching for his waistband and believed he was reaching for a gun. While some observers suggested O’Neil did not “make a physical movement that could be reasonably interpreted as reaching for a firearm,” or that Samayoa should have known O’Neil was unarmed, such theories “rely on 20/20 hindsight which by law is impermissible,” Bonta wrote.
Boudin, who pledged to take a hard line on police misconduct, announced manslaughter charges against Samayoa in November 2020 — the first time in modern history that the city’s top prosecutor has charged a police officer with homicide in a use-of-force case.
But over time the case began to disintegrate, and by January this year, Jenkins’ office had sent Samayoa’s attorneys a raft of documents that the defense said illustrate “egregious prosecutorial misconduct” by Boudin.
Investigators who worked on the case accused Boudin of securing the charges against Samayoa by undermining his lead investigator, who did not view the case as viable, according to Darby Williams, the prosecutor Jenkins assigned to the case and to head the unit investigating police officers.
Boudin could not be reached for comment Friday.
Brian Ford, a San Francisco attorney representing O’Neil’s family, called Bonta’s dismissal “a sanction of police murder,” in a lengthy statement released Friday. Ford said that in dropping the case, Bonta set “a dangerous precedent that officers can justify killing civilians based upon imagined fears derived from standard police training.”
On the other side, Samayoa’s attorney, Michael Rains, praised Jenkins and Bonta for following the law “instead of wallowing in politics.”