Prosecutors Change Modern History of Bay Area’s Legal Field Through O’Neil 2017 Case

On Monday morning, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office declared via a press statement that it would file homicide charges against the police officer responsible for shooting 42-year-old Keita O’Neil in a 2017 chase. The decision shook the entirety of the Bay Area residents, pointing out that prosecutors are now seeking to hold police officers accountable for on-the-job killings they commit after decades have passed.

Over the past years, on-duty incidents, including shooting occurrences of people of color, were usually defended from public judgment. The said statement is due to authorities handling criminal cases, making it difficult for them to hold one of their officers responsible for killing innocent civilians while on duty. Before, prosecutors also have little to no say regarding the issue, often leaving the problems for management by law enforcement officials.

However, the charges filed against the police officer behind the fatal shooting incident against O’Neil marks a relevant change in the Bay Area’s modern history of the legal industry. The indictments against Christopher Samayoa, former San Francisco Police Department Officer, serve as the Bay Area’s first manslaughter case for police use of force, and the third such pursuit.

O’Malley Charges San Leandro Cop for Accountability on April Shooting Incident

A similar case also occurred in Alameda County. Last September of this year, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley indicted Jason Fletcher for homicide charges. According to the official case report, Fletcher was a former San Leandro cop who fatally shot 33-year-old Steven Tyler in a Walmart while on the job last April 2020.

Following the pressed charges filed against Fletcher, O’Malley also swore that she would reopen case investigations of Oscar Grant’s tragic shooting incident by a BART police officer in 2009. The previously mentioned incident was the Bay Area’s first manslaughter case done by a cop while on duty. In 2010, BART officer Johannes Mehserle received a conviction for the crime. However, Mehserle’s colleagues that also got involved at the event did not receive punishments. With that said, lawyers look forward to seeing O’Malley’s take on the issue during its review.

UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy professor Jack Glaser mentioned that a few progressive lawyers had won prosecutor seats across the country in recent years. Some of them include San Joaquin County’s Tori Verber Salazar, San Francisco’s Boudin, and Contra Costa County’s Diana Becton. O’Malley, on the other hand, is a moderate prosecutor in the Bay Area. However, Glaser pointed out that O’Malley can qualify as a liberal public service figure capable of standing next to the region’s innovative attorneys in most parts of the state.

In recent years, many of the previously mentioned progressive prosecutors’ state ordinances boosted to some degree. For instance, Governor Gavin gave his official approval of AB392 in 2019. The said bill prohibits police officers from using lethal force during an ongoing criminal event, such as apprehending escaping suspects in a car chase. The ruling aims to prevent law enforcement officials from becoming an immediate threat to an individual’s life. Unless it is necessary, handling an active criminal case restricts cops from using deadly means to catch a suspect.

The Public Supports Plea of Police Accountability for On-the-Job Homicides

Additionally, Glaser noted that the public sentiment has turned to support the plea of holding on-duty police officers responsible for the killings they commit against innocent bystanders. The previously mentioned change blossomed at the existence of social media and mobile phones. Moreover, the demand for police accountability has intensified after the nine-minute killing incident of Black community member George Floyd happened in May this year.

All of the on-the-job killing victims, Glaser noted, were men of Black color. According to Glaser, the entire state is waking up to the realization that such actions are not tolerable. The police officers’ power should not become subject to abuse by disproportionately hurting people of color, especially Black individuals.