When ongoing drug dealing, drug deaths, and deteriorating street conditions pushed Mayor London Breed to declare a state of emergency in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood in December, she stood alongside a slew of city leaders, including Police Chief Bill Scott, Emergency Management Mary Ellen Carroll, and Behavioral Health Director, Dr. Hillary Kunis.
Three days prior, when she announced several public safety initiatives to combat crime in the city, she stood should-to-shoulder with most of those same leaders, plus others. Noticeably absent at her string of public safety press conferences, however, has been San Francisco's top law enforcement officer, District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
"I think it has a lot to do with -- we're on different pages when it comes to ... some of the things that we are doing," Breed said during an exclusive interview with Senior Investigative Reporter Bigad Shaban.
"Do you have faith, the district attorney is doing everything he can to keep the city safe?" Shaban asked Breed.
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"Um, I think you're going to have to ask him that," Breed responded.
"But I'm asking you," Shaban said. "Do you have faith in what he's doing?"
"I am not necessarily on the same page with a number of things that he's doing." She later added, "we need to start concentrating more on supporting the victims of this city than we are supporting in some cases, sadly, the criminals."
Boudin, who ran on a platform of ending mass incarceration and enforcing police accountability, is facing a recall election this June. Critics accuse the former public defender of crafting policies that too often favor accused criminals inside of crime victims.
In a statement, Robyn Burke, a spokesperson for the district attorney's office said Boudin has "dramatically expanded our Victim Services Division – including creating new positions for advocates for victims of property crime— and we have expanded language access and polices to better serve all San Franciscans."
The district attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment regarding the mayor's criticism.
Meanwhile, Boudin's office is in the midst of a very public fallout with the San Francisco Police Department. The two are at odds over allegations the district attorney's office withheld evidence from the police department in an effort bolster its case against a police officer accused of using excessive force.
Breed also weighed in on the pending controversy.
"Clearly what's happening with the police chief and the DA has been very much problematic," she said. It has everything to do with the violation of trust. And a relationship is really about trust, trust that you're going to do what you need to do to keep people safe and you're going to focus on victims and make sure that the perpetrators of the crimes against them are held accountable."
Fallout Between SFPD and District Attorney's Office
The spat between Boudin and Scott centers around a three-year-old agreement between their two departments that recently seems to have gone bust. Starting in 2019, the police department and district attorney's office forged a 'memorandum of understanding,' or MOU, that pledged cooperation and a free-flow of information between the two departments during investigations involving officer misconduct, such as officer-involved shootings and excessive force.
Compliance with that agreement was called into question late last month when an investigator for the district attorney’s office, Magen Hayashi, testified in the criminal case against Terrance Stangel, a San Francisco police officer accused of using excessive force back in Oct. 2019. While under oath, Hayashi said that she was pressured by her own co-workers – prosecutors inside the DA's office – to purposely withhold evidence from her counterparts at the police department, adding that she believed she would have been let go if she refused.
"You'll be fired," Hayashi said during her testimony.
"The understanding that I had in our unit was that our investigative steps, meaning the investigators, was not a two-way street with the police department and that ... they were to give us information, but we would not provide that back to them."
The hearing and the allegations of misconduct at the district attorney's office center around how Officer Stangel responded to a 911 call regarding domestic violence. He's accused of using excessive force by beating a man, Dacari Spiers, with his baton.
Stangel has argued his actions were justified in light of the fact the man he struck with his baton was seen choking his girlfriend as police arrived on the scene. Stangel’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing misconduct at the district attorney's office. The information Hayashi said she withheld involved an interview she conducted with one of the 911 callers in Dec. 2019, who said she witnessed Spiers chocking his girlfriend and holding her so she couldn’t escape.
The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether Stangel's case should be dismissed because of the alleged misconduct at the DA's office. As a result, Judge Teresa Caffese, said it was not her place to rule if the DA's office, in fact, committed any misconduct, but, rather, decide if any actions were taken that specifically impacted Stangel's ability to get a fair trail.
"The issue of the misconduct...I'm not going to opine on that," she said.
"Even though perhaps it might have been better practice for the two agencies to cooperate in accordance with the MOU, I don't think that's my role to evaluate...whether it was proper or not, that's not before me. That's not an issue I can decide and not my role to decide it."
During the hearing, however, the judge repeatedly questioned whether the release of that interview information would have ultimately made a difference in Stangel's case since that same 911 caller had already been interviewed by an SFPD investigator and provided a similar accounting of the events.
Assistant District Attorney Hans Moore refuted accusations of misconduct, saying the interview information "wasn't turned over because of some internal disagreement."
Last week, in a letter to the district attorney, Police Chief Bill Scott announced he was terminating the MOU.
"The spirit and the letter of MOU processes and procedures we agreed upon have not been followed by the D.A.’s Office," Scott wrote. "It appears that the D.A.’s Office has an ongoing practice of investigations against SFPD officers that includes withholding and concealing information."
Following Scott's release of his letter, Boudin held a press conference last Thursday, denying any wrongdoing. Citing a gag order in the case, however, Boudin failed to offer specifics reconciling his proclamations of compliance with the MOU and Hayashi's testimony that Boudin's own prosecutors pressured her to withhold evidence.
"We have done absolutely everything by the book in this case," Boudin said during the press conference. "There is not one iota of evidence of misconduct under my administration to the extent that there were problems with communication, they predated my tenure."
Boudin took office as district attorney on Jan. 8, 2020. The affidavit Hiyashi signed, in which she failed to disclose her interview with the 911 caller, is dated Dec. 14, 2020.
This week, Boudin drafted his own letter back to Scott, urging him to reconsider terminating the MOU.
"We believe ending this agreement will also deeply damage community trust in law enforcement," Boudin wrote. "From our conversations, we know that you recognize the importance of police accountability and police reform so we remain hopeful that we can continue to work together to resolve any issues with the implementation of this Memorandum of Understanding."
The controversy between San Francisco's top law enforcement agencies has Mayor Breed siding with Scott, but still wanting to leave enough of a bridge unburned with Boudin.
"We are trying to work together, but there's some challenges,' Breed said. "I want to make sure that we don't have a public fight in the press over personality conflicts or over things that are more complicated than just a soundbite for a news show."
"But some might wonder why wouldn't the mayor weigh in on whether the district attorney is doing his job?" Shaban asked.
"To be clear, it has everything with the ability to want to keep people safe, to want to pick up the phone and still have those conversations to not argue in the press and to be what we need to be as leaders and to work together responsibly," Breed said. "Yes, there are some real issues. Yes, I'm concerned about public safety as a whole, and I'm concerned about accountability when our officers make those arrests."
Watch Our Entire Investigative Series
- Part 1: 83,000+ Signatures Submitted to Force SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin into Recall Election
- Part 2: EXCLUSIVE: Two SF Prosecutors Quit, Join Effort to Recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin
- Part 3: Allegations from DA Chesa Boudin's Former Attorneys Go Viral, So What's Next?
- Part 4: SF Asst. District Attorney Defends Office Amid Accusations from Two Former Prosecutors
- Part 5: SF DA Chesa Boudin Could be Forced to Disclose How Often His Office Prosecutes Domestic Violence Offenders
- Part 6: San Francisco DA Boudin, Supervisor Stefani Spar Over Proposed Transparency Law
- Part 7: District Attorney Chesa Boudin Unveils New Crime Data, Critics Say It Doesn't Tell Full Story
- Part 8: SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin Officially Forced Into Recall Election Next June