San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has filed homicide charges against a former rookie police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black suspect in 2017.
Boudin announced manslaughter and weapons charges against Christopher Samayoa for killing 42-year-old Keita O’Neil on Monday, Nov. 23, during a news conference. The charges include voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault by an executive officer, assault with a semi-automatic firearm and negligent discharge of a firearm. Boudin called the charges “historic.”
“As far as we are aware, this is the first-ever time that the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office has filed homicide charges against a law enforcement officer for a homicide while on duty,” Boudin said during the press conference. “This historic decision sends a message that I hope will be loud and clear. No one is above the law.”
In December of 2017, officers were chasing O’Neil, because he was accused of stealing a California State Lottery van, reported ABC7. The pursuit lasted until O’Neil reached the Alice Griffith housing complex, where he stopped the van, jumped out and ran.
According to police, O’Neil was running towards the car, but Boudin said body camera footage shows O’Neil was actually running past it.
“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,” Boudin said.
Samayoa, who’d just graduated from the police academy three days prior, was the only one to pull out his weapon, Boudin added.
“Mr. O’Neil had no weapons, he was unarmed,” Boudin said. “Body camera footage from other officers shows that not a single other officer pulled out their service weapon or pointed it at Mr. O’Neil. As a result of Officer Samayoa’s terrible, tragic and unlawful decision that day … Mr. O’Neil was killed.”
Boudin — who ran on a promise to diligently work on criminal justice reform, end cash bail and address police misconduct — reiterated his commitment to using his office to pursue fair justice and equality.
“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,” Boudin said. “In San Francisco there has been long history of officer-involved shootings leading to no accountability whatsoever, further cementing the idea that police are above the law. That stops today.”
Samayoa was fired from the department after a three-month investigation for killing O’Neil, but it has taken public outcry and nearly three years for the charges to be filed. Racial justice advocates said it is an important step in the right direction.
“Bayview residents deserve to know that law enforcement officers who inflict violence and harm in our community will be held accountable,” Shamann Walton, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “This prosecution is an important, historic step towards showing that Black lives matter and that unlawful police violence will not be tolerated.”
The San Francisco Police Officer’s Association, who advocated for Samayoa after he was fired, said they will continue to support him through legal proceedings.
“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,” the association’s statement said. “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.”
Attorney John Burris, who represented O’Neil’s family in a federal lawsuit against the San Francisco Police, called the shooting “egregious” and a “premeditated, deliberate murder.” O’Neil’s aunt, April Green, said they were grateful charges have been filed against Samayoa and hoped the case would set a precedent.
“I really am in hopes because the times have changed. People are videoing, recording now, holding in accountability these officers, which is great and I’m really hoping that this case will set a standard,” Green told CBS SF Bay Area.
A warrant has been issued for Samayoa’s arrest, which includes a bond of $1,000. Boudin said they expect the former cop to turn himself in sometime this week.