A former San Francisco District Attorney’s office investigative supervisor is suing District Attorney Chesa Boudin for wrongful termination, saying he was punished for protesting “improper and unlawful actions” by the two prosecutors who later charged a San Francisco police officer with manslaughter in a 2017 confrontation with a man who later died.
On Nov. 2, San Francisco prosecutors charged Officer Kenneth Cha with manslaughter in the confrontation that they said led to the death of Sean Moore, 42. Cha appeared in court on Tuesday.
San Francisco district attorney’s Lt. Jeffrey Pailet filed his whistleblower challenge that same day, accusing Boudin, Boudin’s Chief of Staff David Campos as well as prosecutors Dana Drusinsky and Stephanie Lacambra of wrongful retaliation and other misconduct.
“Our client attempted to do the right thing by demanding that various assistant district attorneys follow the law and with respect to executing search warrants. Unfortunately, due to his repeated attempts of doing so, he was retaliated against and ultimately terminated from his position within the district attorney's office,” said Pailet’s attorney, Joseph Lucia.
Boudin’s office referred questions to the City Attorney’s office, which issued a statement Tuesday saying “the city is committed to a workplace free of retaliation. Mr. Pailet filed this matter in court, and that is where we will respond.”
Pailet alleges he repeatedly complained last year that the search warrants seeking officers’ phone records that were prepared in the Moore case failed to disclose that Moore had assaulted the officers just before the shooting, a fact Pailet said was potentially exculpatory.
Pailet was hired by then District Attorney George Gascon in 2017 and was soon promoted to supervise a unit investigating misconduct by officers. In the suit, he declares he’s been “dedicated to the investigation of improper conduct and prosecution of illegal conduct by law enforcement.”
The suit alleges that while prosecutors initially declined to file charges against Officer Kenneth Cha and partner Colin Patino, the case was reopened after Boudin took office in January of last year.
“Boudin came into office with a political objective to target officers with criminal investigations,” the suit alleges, and had Drusinsky and other prosecutors reopen the case. In June of last year, Drusinsky and Lacambra asked that the investigator who had handled the case be removed.
The investigator would typically prepare a summary memo about the case, but Pailet alleged that the two prosecutors told him not to provide the summary to the new investigator. Then, in September, Drusinsky allegedly gave the new investigator the task of writing a search warrant affidavit seeking the personal and work cell phone records of the officers involved.
According to the suit, the investigator told Pailet his concerns that there was enough basis to seek the records, given that so much time had passed. Pailet said he first considered the matter “merely a misunderstanding” between prosecutors and his investigator.
The investigator wrote a draft search warrant, raising questions about the basis for the searches. The two prosecutors, Pailet alleges, authored a “heavily edited revised draft” that Pailet’s suit alleges “deleted germane facts of the event at issue, including the suspect’s attacks on the involved officers prior to the shooting.”
The warrants the prosecutors soon drafted, the suit alleges, “removed potentially exculpatory evidence.”
Pailet, according to his suit, “did not want there to be any illegal conduct in the issuance of a search warrant and wanted to make sure that the investigation was not compromised” and so he and the investigator involved met with the prosecutors, to “explain and report the improper and likely illegal language being used for the search warrants.”
Pailet said after that meeting, the two prosecutors threatened to report what happened to Boudin and to say that Pailet and the investigator “were not cooperating, refusing to follow their instructions and not fulfilling their job duties.”
He said that the prosecutors apparently misunderstood his motives, wrongly believing Pailet “did not Support” Boudin’s “political objectives.”
Pailet said he soon found he had restricted access to the investigative file in the case and prosecutors refused it, “in clear retribution for his advice and comments regarding the integrity of the language for the search warrant and affidavit.”
Later drafts of the warrant affidavit, he said, “altered the context of the incident, made statements that did not have factual support and removed exculpatory information about how the incident occurred. This continued to present numerous legal problems with the search warrants and warrant affidavits, violated …training and reference materials and therefore failed to establish the probable cause required to perform a legal search.
“Further, it had the potential of compromising the investigation and any evidence that would be obtained from the search warrants, if issued.”
Pailet wrote an email in November for both Campos and Boudin, outlining his concerns.
But he soon learned from Campos that he had been fired, without any specific cause. He says he sent another email to Campos and Boudin “expressing his confusion at his termination and again outlining his concerns regarding the legality of the search warrants and warrant affidavits for the involved officers’ personal electronic communication devices” as well as allegations that the prosecutors’ “actions in violation of law, prosecutorial ethics and SFDA’s policies.”
He challenged the action at a hearing, but his appeal was denied. “No explanation was given for his termination and he was informed that no investigation would be done,” the suit concludes.