San Francisco PD to End Deal with DA over Officer Shooting Probes

Feb. 3, 2022
San Francisco's police chief plans to terminate an agreement with the district attorney that lays out that office's lead investigative role into officer use-of-force incidents.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said he intends to sever an agreement with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office spelling out the D.A.'s lead role in investigating police use-of-force incidents, in-custody deaths and police shootings.

The agreement was originally struck in 2019 following intense debate in San Francisco over the role the city's police department should play in investigating its own officers following a rash of police shootings. Police and the District Attorney's Office renewed the agreement last year.

It was not immediately clear how dissolving the agreement might impact future use-of-force investigations. In a statement, Scott said he reached out to Attorney General Rob Bonta's office about terminating the agreement, and would seek guidance from Bonta's office on possible options for an alternative agreement.

The rift stems from a police use-of-force case against Officer Terrance Stangel, who is facing criminal battery and assault charges for allegedly beating a man with a baton. The incident occurred while Stangel and other officers responded to a domestic violence report.

Last week, Stangel's attorney argued that the case should be dismissed due to what she called "misconduct" in the D.A.'s handling of the case. In a pretrial hearing, D.A. Investigator Magen Hayashi testified that she felt she could be fired if she did not sign an affidavit against Stangel as prosecutors wished, and was instructed not to share information with police investigating the underlying domestic violence case.

Hayashi's affidavit, containing the findings from her investigation, was presented as evidence of probable cause to charge Stangel.

The agreement between police and prosecutors states that investigators from the two departments should be kept apprised of each other's probes.

In a letter Wednesday to District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Scott said, "I appears that the DA's Office has an ongoing practice of investigations against SFPD officers that includes withholding and concealing information and evidence the SFPD is entitled to have" for its own investigations.

Rachel Marshall, a spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office, said it was "disappointing but no coincidence SFPD chose to withdraw from this agreement during the first-ever trial against an on-duty San Francisco police officer for an unlawful beating."

"Since the MOU between our office and SFPD went into effect, our office has made enormous progress towards reducing police violence against San Franciscans and particularly people of color," Marshall said in a statement.

Opening statements in the trial against Stangel are scheduled to begin next week. The case is currently under a gag order, meaning prosecutors and defense attorneys are not permitted to speak about it publicly.

In a fiery debate over the MOU, San Francisco Police Commissioner John Hamasaki said Scott's decision to terminate the agreement "appeared to be a clear case of tampering with a jury."

Scott fired back, calling that accusation "extremely insulting and disappointing." Scott said his decision was "not a stunt" and said it would have no bearing on the criminal trial and that he was within his rights under the agreement to terminate it.

Nicole Pifari, an attorney for Stangel, claimed that the District Attorney's Office withheld incriminating evidence from police as they investigated the man Stangel allegedly beat, Dacari Spiers. That evidence — that Spiers was allegedly beating his girlfriend prior to the altercation with Stangel — may have helped lead to criminal charges against Spiers, Pifari argued.

In her motion to dismiss the case, Pifari said Hayashi, the district attorney's investigator, failed to inform the police department of a follow-up interview with a witness who reported seeing Spiers assaulting his girlfriend. The defense alleged that Hayashi then lied about it by saying she had no further contact with the witness when providing police with an update on the investigation.

Pifari claimed Stangel was justified in his use of force under the circumstances.

In responding to Pifari's questions under oath Thursday, Hayashi said she was pressured to sign the affidavit against Stangel after removing exculpatory information.

Asked who pressured her, she said, "it was a general understanding in my experience in this office, if you don't sign these things you'll be fired."

The follow-up interview was consistent with what the witness told both police and the district attorney in earlier interviews, Pifari said. Pifari also alleged that the prosecution of her client was politically motivated by Boudin, though parts of the defense's allegations precede Boudin's time in office.

Judge Teresa Caffese, who is overseeing the case, said it appeared both police and the District Attorney's Office had the same statements from the witness, and that the follow-up interview with the witness provided no new information.

"What I'm not hearing here is that there was any evidence suppressed," Caffese said.

In his letter to Boudin, Scott said "confidence has been eroded" because of the alleged violations in the MOU, and that he intends to terminate the agreement in 15 days. If Boudin disagrees with the decision, he can schedule a meeting with the chief within five days, as outlined in the agreement, Scott said.

Bonta's office is currently investigating a fatal San Francisco police shooting case that occurred last month at San Francisco International Airport. Under state law, the A.G.'s office must investigate all incidents of fatal police shootings involving an unarmed civilian.

The man police shot and killed at SFO, 37-year-old Nelson Szeto, was carrying what police initially said were firearms, but were actually toy airsoft guns.

Boudin's office is currently prosecuting six officers in five separate use-of-force cases. The cases underscore what was a key tenet of the progressive prosecutor's campaign: holding officers accountable for wrongdoing.


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