On Monday, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office announced five homicide charges against a former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black man during a 2017 incident. In a statement, District Attorney Chesa Boudin said this is believed to be the first time the city has ever charged a San Francisco Police Department officer with on-duty homicide.
The charges against former cop Chris Samayoa include voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a semiautomatic firearm, assault by a police officer and discharge of a firearm with gross negligence. The victim in the shooting was identified as 42-year-old Keita O’Neil.
“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. In my administration, police officers are not above the law,” Boudin said in the statement. “Police officers are obligated to follow the law when using force—even when responding to serious crimes. As District Attorney, I will continue to hold accountable officers who inflict unlawful violence and breach the trust the public places in them.”
The December 2017 incident occurred when O’Neil, a suspect alleged to have carjacked a California State Lottery minivan, was being followed by Samayoa and his partner. After O’Neil drove to a dead-end during the pursuit, he got down and took to his heels, the statement said.
In an attempt to get away from other patrol cars that were preventing him from escaping, O’Neil ran past the vehicle Samayoa and his partner were in. Samayoa, who was in the passenger seat of the police car, opened fire, fatally striking an unarmed O’Neil. His death was ruled as a homicide.
Though Samayoa only turned on his bodycam afterward, the gadget still recorded the shooting as the body cameras are set up to automatically record thirty seconds before its activation, according to the statement. Samayoa was fired from the force in the aftermath of the incident.
“Body camera footage shows that not a single other officer pulled out their service weapon or pointed at Mr. O’Neil,” Boudin said during a press conference on Monday, KQED reported. “As a result of Officer Samayoa’s terrible, tragic and unlawful decision to pull and fire his gun that day, Mr. O’Neil was killed and my office is filing charges today.”
Responding to the announcement of the charges, O’Neil’s family expressed their satisfaction. “I am happy to hear this news, and hoping it brings some justice to our family,” the deceased’s aunt said.
Shamann Walton, the Supervisor whose district the shooting occurred, said the “prosecution is an important, historic step towards showing that Black lives matter and that unlawful police violence will not be tolerated.”
“Bayview residents deserve to know that law enforcement officers who inflict violence and harm in our community will be held accountable,” he said.
A civil rights attorney and former Police Department Commissioner, Angela Chan, also said the charges are justified as they have to “confront the problematic culture of SFPD that allows officer involved shootings to occur without serious and objective investigations.”
“For many years, the highest ranks of SFPD have rewarded officer involved shootings by awarding medals of valor when an officer shoots and kills a community member, particularly Black, Latino, and Asian American community members, and even when an internal affairs investigation is pending,” Chan added.
A warrant for Samayoa’s arrest was signed by a judge with a $1,000 bail.