‘Obligation to Seek Justice’: SF DA Chesa Boudin Wraps Up First Year With Round of Charges Against Officers

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin punctuated his first year in office by filing a series of criminal charges against current and former city police officers.

That should come as little surprise. Boudin, a former high-profile deputy public defender, campaigned as part of a progressive prosecutor movement and promised to charge cops who used excessive force.

The series of recent charges filed has nevertheless drawn criticism from San Francisco's police officers’ union and raised some concerns with the city's police chief.

In the past month alone, Boudin has filed charges against three current or former police officers. He also, however, declined to charge three other officers connected to two fatal shootings.

“We have an obligation to seek justice, to do justice and to enforce the laws equally,” Boudin said in an interview Wednesday. “And that's exactly what we're doing in these cases.”

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On Monday, Boudin filed felony assault and battery charges against Officer Terrance Stangel for allegedly beating a domestic violence suspect with a baton in October 2019 near Fisherman’s Wharf.

Boudin said body camera footage from the incident shows that the officers, who responded to a 911 call, “immediately escalated the situation, used force that resulted in multiple broken bones.” He also noted that officers did not actually see the suspect — later identified as Dacari Spiers — assaulting his girlfriend, as had been reported, and never arrested him.

Spiers required surgery on his leg and wrist as a result of his injuries.

The day after Boudin’s office filed charges, San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott released his own statement and provided recordings of the original 911 call and body camera footage. In a carefully worded statement, Scott gave his “full support” to the SFPD, while stopping short of either defending Stangel’s actions or directly criticizing the criminal charges. He stressed the need to maintain balance between holding officers accountable for violating the law and holding individuals accountable for attacking or obstructing officers.

“Unfortunately, the job of protecting public safety and preserving order becomes exceedingly difficult when that balance is absent,” he said in the statement.

It's unclear in the body camera footage what transpired between Spiers and his girlfriend as the officers approached.

In a tweet, the San Francisco Police Officers Association thanked the chief for his support and condemned the recent charges.

Stangel’s attorney criticized the DA’s charging decision in a written statement.

“When District Attorney Chesa Boudin says there is no evidence of domestic violence, he is wrong,” attorney Nicole Pifari said. “Everyone in San Francisco should be concerned the DA can’t get his facts straight and is attempting to frame an innocent officer who was doing what society asks of him — protect the public.”

In February, Spiers filed a civil suit against the city. The suit alleges that a district attorney’s investigator tried to secretly record him in his hospital room, and that five officers later entered the room “and attempted to threaten (Spiers) to remain silent about the attack and to coerce (him) into not seeking legal representation for the beating.”

In response to those allegations, Boudin would only say that his office is not pursuing any additional charges related to this case.

Boudin has also helped spearhead other changes to how police are investigated in San Francisco.

He says he restructured his office’s Independent Investigations Bureau — a unit at least four years in the making that was initiated by Boudin's predecessor, George Gascón. More recently, the bureau became the lead investigating agency in police shootings and in-custody deaths.

During a public Facebook Live discussion Boudin held on Wednesday, Chief Scott said that his department used to be more clued in to the information needed to make charging decisions, and it's now become increasingly challenging to be left out of “an information loop” and be “somewhat in the dark.”

A screenshot from a Facebook Live discussion on Wednesday, Dec. 18 with San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin (top right), Police Chief Bill Scott (bottom) and DA Communications Director Rachel Marshall. (Zoom/Facebook Live)

He added that although he may not agree with every decision the DA makes, he appreciates the faster pace of charging decisions, which in the past often languished for years after investigations were presented to prosecutors.

“These cases are hard enough as it is,” Scott said. “When we have to rise to that level of force, nobody's happy with that, and it's an ordeal. And so when officers can get closure, when families can get closure, whichever way those decisions go, I think that's a good thing, particularly when it's done in an expedient manner.”

He added that it’s important for all stakeholders to have “confidence and faith that this justice system is fair, that this system is just, that this system is doing what it was designed to do.”

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It's exceedingly rare for a police officer to be charged with committing murder or manslaughter, and even more unusual for one to be convicted. Between 2005 to 2019, only 104 officers nationwide have faced criminal homicide charges for on-duty shootings, and just 35 have been convicted, according to the Police Integrity Research Group at Bowling Green State University.

All of which makes Boudin's first year in office all the more noteworthy.

Late last month, Boudin brought manslaughter charges against former police Officer Christopher Samayoa who fatally shot unarmed Keita O'Neil in the city's Bayview District in 2017.

And on Dec. 7, just a week before Boudin filed charges against Stangel, a grand jury indicted Officer Christopher Flores for assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a 2019 Mission District police shooting that left a man — Jamaica Hampton — in critical condition. The jury brought charges against Hampton as well.

The trial for that case will be heard in the next few months, Boudin said.

KQED's Alex Emslie contributed reporting to this story.