Critics are skeptical of San Francisco’s reform-minded new DA
After a tumultuous and costly recall effort that ousted Chesa Boudin last month, San Francisco has a new district attorney — a prosecutor who left Boudin’s office to join the campaign against him.
Mayor of London Breed appointed Brooke Jenkins to the interim post on Thursday, drawing praise from San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott and the police union.
Boudin’s supporters, however, pushed back, questioning Jenkins’ experience and record of criminal justice reform in a city famous for its historically progressive politics but where public concern about crime has sparked a more typical response from the authorities.
“Unfortunately, as we all know, we’re at a turning point in San Francisco,” Jenkins said at a Thursday night news conference following Breed’s announcement. “San Franciscans don’t feel safe, and concerns about public safety have become their #1 concern.”
The recall that ousted Boudin midway through his first term has become a referendum on some of San Francisco’s most painfully visible social issues, including homelessness, property crime and drug addiction.
The campaign, of which Jenkins was a part, portrayed Boudin as a soft-on-crime prosecutor. He sought to link his reform policies to a high-profile crime wave, including a fatal hit-and-run involving a man on parole, a series of armed robberies at high-end Union Square stores and a wave of attacks on elderly Asian American residents.
In fact, property and violent crimes dropped by double digit percentages during Boudin’s first two years in office. But some individual categories of crime jumped at the same time: burglaries rose 47%; motor vehicle theft, 36%. Homicides have also increased, although Boudin took office the year after the city saw its lowest murder count in more than half a century in 2019.
Under his direction, Jenkins said Thursday that the district attorney’s office “will work diligently every day to restore order to our city and restore our city to the great city we know it is.”
She has pledged to prosecute violent and repeat offenders, those who commit hate crimes and to crack down on drug use on the streets, although she said she would remain committed to justice reform criminal. Jenkins said she would also make tackling property crime a priority.
But critics said his appointment signaled a setback in reform efforts at the district attorney’s office.
John Hamasaki, a San Francisco defense attorney and former police commissioner who has frequently spoken out against Boudin’s recall, sharply criticized Jenkins on Twitter, calling her unethical and generally incompetent.
Jenkins has no management experience and has “a pretty good history of what I think is objectively unethical conduct,” Hamasaki told The Times on Friday.
He pointed to Jenkins’ pursuit of Daniel Gudino, who killed his mother during a mental health episode in 2020.
“He was a mental patient who killed his mother, and all but one of the doctors said he was crazy,” Hamasaki said. “She wanted him in prison for life.”
Gudino was convicted of second-degree murder, but a jury was deadlocked over whether he was legally insane, then Dist. Atti. Boudin chose not to fight the insanity plea, despite Jenkins’ objections, according to SFist. Gudino was committed to a mental hospital, and Jenkins cited the case in an interview with a San Francisco Chronicle columnist about why she left Boudin’s office.
“She quit because she lost and the prosecutor wouldn’t let her try again,” Hamasaki said. “There is enough in her story to show that she lacks the experience or judgment to run the office responsibly.”
The San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club said in a statement Friday that Breed’s nomination of Jenkins signals a return to cash bail, the use of strikes to improve sentencing, gang improvements and the charging of minors at the adulthood – all practices that Boudin had sought to end.
“We unequivocally oppose this dangerous appointment of an individual who has embarked on a vision of returning to a world with mass incarceration of our black and brown communities; where ‘guilty until proven guilty’ is the motto of the current occupant of the district attorney’s office,” the statement read.
Jenkins pushed back against the allegations.
“There were a lot of misconceptions about what I stood for,” she said after being sworn in on Friday. “I want to be clear that holding offenders accountable doesn’t mean we can’t move forward with progressive criminal justice reform.”
Jenkins spoke about her experience as a black, Latina woman with family members accused of crimes.
Reform is needed, she said, adding that she is committed to improving diversion programs, creating new programs that can serve as an alternative to incarceration and creating an alternative court for women. .
“I want to be very clear today that accountability and justice come in many forms,” Jenkins said. “For some, accountability may mean jail time, but for the majority of people, it’s something else entirely.”
She is committed to ensuring that her office uses all available resources to give those accused of crimes a chance to turn their lives around and break the cycle of recidivism.
Jenkins, who spent seven years as an assistant district attorney and worked in the hate crimes, sexual assault and homicide units, will serve until a November special election to decide who will finish Boudin’s term until in 2023 – an election in which she runs and could face Boudin.
Like other prosecutors in the national movement to reinvent the criminal justice system, Boudin came forward on a platform to reduce mass incarceration and divert low-level offenders to drug and mental health treatment at the place of prison cells.
His ousting may have national implications, including for Los Angeles County Dist. Atti. George Gascón, who is facing his second recall attempt in two years.
Jenkins plans to meet with his leadership team to discuss which existing San Francisco office policies can be kept and where adjustments need to be made.
“I don’t have any particular positions on what will stay and what will go,” Jenkins said.
Scott, the police chief, said in a tweet that he knows Jenkins “is a person of principle and integrity” and looks forward to working closely with her.
San Francisco Police Officers Association. echoed the chef’s comments in a statement.
“We urge Ms. Jenkins to hold offenders fairly accountable, show compassion to members of the criminal justice system who need and deserve it, and stand firm in protecting and assisting victims of crime who seek justice,” union officials said.
For Greg Totten, executive director of the California District Attorneys Assn., Jenkins’ appointment marks a renewed focus on public safety without sacrificing reform.
“I think it’s a mistake to assume that San Francisco voters still don’t support criminal justice reform,” Totten said. “They don’t want reforms that endanger their basic security. They just want the reform to be considered.
He criticized top prosecutors such as Boudin and Gascón, who previously held the post in San Francisco, calling them “rogue DAs.”
And Totten, who served as the Ventura County prosecutor for 18 years until early 2021, said Jenkins’ lack of managerial experience shouldn’t be a problem.
“Having administrative experience, having supervisory experience definitely helps,” he said. “The most important thing is to surround yourself with people who have experience. The most important asset is a basic understanding of the liability of the profession.
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California executive director Abdi Soltani said his organization would hold Jenkins accountable and push her to adopt policies consistent with the values of civil liberties and civil rights.
“The past two years have been difficult, and we recognize that people are frustrated and angry, but reinstating discriminatory policies that criminalize poverty and drug addiction will not make San Francisco any safer,” Soltani said.
Duffie Stone, former president and current chairman of the board of directors of the National Association of District Attorneys, said prosecutors are always looking to improve the criminal justice system, but reforms can’t get in the way of continued prosecution. justice.
“You have to look at the human being and you have to realize that there are people who will never commit another crime,” said Stone, who serves as the 14th Circuit attorney in South Carolina. “They are non-violent first-time offenders, and they need to go through diversion programs.”
Veterans who return from active duty with mental health issues that cause them to commit a crime should go to veterans court so they can be held accountable while receiving treatment, he said. , citing an example.
“But there are also people who engage in antisocial behavior, and you have to recognize that,” Stone said. “The most progressive thing we can do as prosecutors [is] intelligence-based prosecutions. It starts with…determining at a very early stage…who is the person you are dealing with? »
Stone said he sees the criminal justice system moving in a direction where it can identify those eligible for diversion programs and other alternatives to incarceration, as well as repeat offenders, and meet their needs in a way appropriate.
During his Thursday night press conference, Jenkins said San Francisco is “a second-chance city, but the truth is, we have to draw a line with people who choose hate, violence, and a life of crime.”