In a 1st for office, San Francisco DA charges former rookie officer with manslaughter

The San Francisco District Attorney on Monday charged a former rookie police officer for the death of a 42-year-old man three years ago -- the first time the DA's Office has filed homicide charges against law enforcement for homicide while on duty. 

DA Chesa Boudin said he is charging the former officer, Chris Samayoa, with involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, assault by an executive office and negligence discharge of a firearm, stemming from the 2017 death of Keita O'Neil, who was unarmed at the time.

Boudin said he is not seeking Samayoa's in-custody detention and he hopes he will surrender by the end of the week. Charges were filed early Monday morning, and Boudin stressed that the prosecution was in its very early stages. No charges were filed against Samayoa's supervising officer.

"Today I'm proud that San Francisco is charting a new course," Boudin said. "One that will hold officers accountable when they break the law and value the lives hurt by unwarranted police use of force, a course that will enforce the laws equally...I hope this historic message is loud and clear to the African-American community and to all residents of San Francisco. And this is also a message to the police department. No one is above the law." 

In a statement, Supervisor Shamann Walton, whose district includes the area where this crime occurred, said: “Bayview residents deserve to know that law enforcement officers who inflict violence and harm in our community will be held accountable." 

Efforts to reach Samayoa or his attorney immediately were unsuccessful. 

In the past, District Attorneys have rarely brought homicide cases against police officers, But a new state law, AB 392, forbids allowing officers to use deadly force when they believe it is reasonable; the current standard is that deadly force can only be used when it is deemed necessary. 

Samayoa was never hired by the department. He shot O'Neil while it was his fourth day on the job.  

Rookie SF cop out of a job after fatal shooting

On the day in question, Dec. 1, 2017, O’Neil allegedly grabbed the keys from a state lottery worker on Potrero Hill, pushed her to the ground and drove off in her white minivan, police said at the time. 

Officers intercepted the van on Highway 101 in the Bayview and chased it into the public housing complex two blocks away, where O’Neil got out and ran toward a patrol car.

He was running away when Samayoa fatally shot him in the head during a police chase through the Alice Griffith public housing complex. 

Police released body camera footage from Samayoa’s chest shortly after the shooting that showed the officer drawing his pistol from the passenger’s seat as the cruiser was still moving. A second later, Samayoa opened the side door and fired a single shot through the window, hitting O’Neil in the head as he ran beside the car. 

One of O'Neil's civil attorneys, Adante Pointer, said this charge is helpful on the "journey of justice."

Pointer is one of the civil rights attorneys who filed a wrongful death suit against the police department on O'Neil's behalf. He stressed that O'Neil had a troubled history but was also a dutiful son. Once he was released from prison, he took care of his bedridden mother, cooking her meals and washing her clothes. 

Pointer said since his client is dead, the public will never hear his side of the story. And while the lottery worker was "essentially pickpocketed," O'Neil never hurt her or threatened harm. 

"He was issued a death sentence for theft," Pointer said. 

At the time, some police groups and advocates, like the city police union, said Samayoa was “doing what he was trained to do.”

His dismissal was unwarranted, they told the Chronicle two years ago, and criminal charges would be even more unreasonable.

Today we were informed of the charges against former police officer Christopher Samayoa. The criminal justice system will allow for the facts surrounding this case to be disclosed. We are committed to ensuring that Christopher and his family are supported during this difficult time and that he is accorded his due process rights and provided with a vigorous defense against these charges

At the time of Monday's press conference Chesa said hadn't spoken to SFPOA leadership about the charges, but he did speak with the police chief. 

Later that day, the police association said it was aware of the charges against the former officer and will let the criminal justice determine the facts. 

"We are committed to ensuring that Christopher and his family are supported during this difficult time and that he is accorded his due process rights and provided with a vigorous defense against these charges," SFPOA said in a statement.

O'Neils family said they're gratified to see that a crimincal case will go to court. 

His aunt April Green said, "Hopefully this will lead the way in the future to hold police officers accountable. Hopefully there will be some standards changed and policies."

KTVU's Evan Sernoffsky, Henry Lee, Christien Kafton, Aja Seldon and Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.