by Rachel Marshall
San Francisco – The District Attorney’s Office has filed homicide charges against former San Francisco Police Department Officer Chris Samayoa, who fatally shot Keita O’Neil in December 2017. The homicide occurred before District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s election and remained under investigation when Boudin took office. Following a careful review of the case, the District Attorney’s Office filed a warrant for Chris Samayoa’s arrest, which a judge signed on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.
On Nov. 23, the District Attorney’s Office formally filed charges of voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a semiautomatic firearm, assault by a police officer, and discharge of a firearm with gross negligence against former Officer Samayoa. The case is believed to be the first homicide prosecution against a law enforcement officer in San Francisco history.
“For too long, we have seen the failures of our legal system to hold police accountable for the violence committed against the members of the public they are entrusted to keep safe. In my administration, police officers are not above the law,” said District Attorney Boudin.
“Police officers are obligated to follow the law when using force – even when responding to serious crimes. As district attorney, I will continue to hold accountable officers who inflict unlawful violence and breach the trust the public places in them.”
On Dec. 1, 2017, San Francisco Police Department Officers Edric Talusan and Chris Samayoa followed a suspect thought to have carjacked a California State Lottery minivan. Officer Talusan, who was driving, and Officer Samayoa, who was in the passenger seat, observed and followed the van through the Bayview District. After following the van a few blocks, the van reached a dead-end street, and 42-year-old Keita O’Neil jumped out and began to run on foot.
As other patrol cars closed in on him and blocked his path, Mr. O’Neil ran past the police car where Officer Samayoa was seated in the passenger seat. Officer Samayoa pointed his gun and shot Mr. O’Neil through the passenger side window of the patrol car, killing Mr. O’Neil.
Mr. O’Neil had no weapon on him. His cause of death was determined to be a homicide.
“This prosecution is an important, historic step towards showing that Black Lives Matter and that unlawful police violence will not be tolerated.”
Although Officer Samayoa failed to turn on his body camera until after shooting Mr. O’Neil, Officer Samayoa’s camera nonetheless captured video of the shooting because body cameras automatically record the 30 seconds prior to their activation. Officer Samayoa was terminated from his position as a San Francisco Police Department officer as a result of this incident.
District Attorney Boudin informed Mr. O’Neil’s family of the decision on Monday morning. April Green, Mr. O’Neil’s aunt, expressed gratitude and said, “I am happy to hear this news, and hoping it brings some justice to our family.”
Supervisor Shamann Walton, whose district includes the area where this crime occurred, is hopeful about District Attorney Boudin’s decision to prosecute. “Bayview residents deserve to know that law enforcement officers who inflict violence and harm in our community will be held accountable,” he said. “This prosecution is an important, historic step towards showing that Black Lives Matter and that unlawful police violence will not be tolerated.”
“For many years, the highest ranks of SFPD have rewarded officer-involved shootings by awarding medals of valor when an officer shoots and kills a community member, particularly Black, Latino and Asian American community members.”
Experts in police practices commended District Attorney Boudin’s announcement. “Criminal prosecutions of police officers for excessive use of force have been exceedingly rare, resulting in a deep erosion of trust when communities feel law enforcement officers are above the law,” said longtime police reform advocate and retired ACLU police practices expert John Crew.
“In San Francisco, this lack of accountability has too often become normalized. District Attorney Boudin’s willingness to apply the law’s standards to the conduct of a police officer, and, where legally justified, criminally prosecute an officer for homicide may help to reverse that trend.”
Angela Chan, civil rights attorney and former Police Commissioner, explained the context of this decision. “We have to confront the problematic culture of SFPD that allows officer involved shootings to occur without serious and objective investigations,” she said.
“For many years, the highest ranks of SFPD have rewarded officer-involved shootings by awarding medals of valor when an officer shoots and kills a community member, particularly Black, Latino and Asian American community members – even when an internal affairs investigation is pending.”
Given the age of this incident, the District Attorney’s Office did not request former Officer Samayoa’s pretrial detention and a judge signed a warrant for his arrest with a nominal $1,000 bail. Former Officer Samayoa is expected to surrender on the warrant.
Rachel Marshall is director of communications, policy adviser and assistant district attorney in the office of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. She can be reached by email at Rachel.Marshall@sfgov.org, by mail at 350 Rhode Island Street, North Building, Suite 400N San Francisco, CA 94103, and by phone at 628-652-4193 or 415-416-4468.