When Troy McAlister ran a red light in a stolen car that struck and killed 60-year-old Elizabeth Platt and 27-year-old Hanako Abe on Dec. 31, 2020, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin blamed everyone else, including the San Francisco Police Department. Boudin said SFPD should have warned him about McAlister after a Dec. 20, 2020 arrest for suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle and possessing burglary tools, but in fact the officer who wrote up the report noted McAlister had been arrested for “73 felonies and 32 misdemeanors in San Francisco alone, with multiple charges for robbery, burglary and possession of stolen property,” hoping to get the district attorney’s attention. It obviously didn’t work. After the New Year’s Eve tragedy, Boudin charged McAlister with unlawful driving, taking of a vehicle, leaving the scene, second degree burglary, possession of a firearm with prior conviction, sale of controlled substance, and two counts of voluntary manslaughter. A check of McAlister’s case online revealed the two manslaughter counts were no longer listed. It also appears Boudin didn’t charge the strike enhancements, which would have meant a sentence of 25 years to life for McAlister (without the enhancements he could be out in less than 15). It’s hard to believe Boudin would go light on such a prominent case so maybe this is just a glitch in the computer system, but since Boudin’s office isn’t transparent and doesn’t respond to my inquiries, I was unable to confirm it.
Since taking office Jan. 1, 2020 through March 1, 2021, Boudin has tried just 23 cases resulting in 16 convictions, including four assaults (three convictions); one auto burglary, one residential burglary, one gun felony (no conviction); three sexual assaults (two convictions); two robberies; seven misdemeanor DUIs (four convictions); and one misdemeanor vehicular homicide, which he lost. In 2019 during the same timeframe, Boudin’s predecessor, George Gascon, tried 294 cases and got 203 convictions.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office obtains convictions by trial as well as convictions via plea agreement, however, they only release the number of convictions obtained by trial and have thus far rejected public records requests for convictions settled by plea agreement. Total convictions, therefore, are likely higher.
In 2020, SFPD presented 6,333 felonies to Boudin’s office. Contrast that with neighboring Alameda County, where 6,331 felony cases were presented, resulting in 1,413 convictions. Alameda dismissed only 11.4 percent of cases, while San Francisco’s dismissal rate was 40 percent.
THE RECALL CAMPAIGN BEGINS
“Every resident and every visitor to San Francisco is a potential target.
Our homes, our property and our lives are at risk,” says Richie Greenberg, a longtime San Francisco resident, business consultant and 2016 candidate for mayor. That feeling, shared by many San Franciscans, jumpstarted a campaign to recall Boudin (recallchesaboudin.org). His supporters say it is a “Republican effort,” but the coalition of 29 signers on the notice of intent includes 20 non-Republicans; and 88 percent of those who have signed the recall petition are non-Republicans, with nearly 60 percent being Democrats. The recall campaign has also raised over $125,000 in a relatively short period. Because Boudin won by a sliver in November 2019 (just 8 percent of residents voted for him in a low turnout ranked choice election), political pundits believe Boudin should be nervous.
While the McAlister case garnered the most attention, it’s just one in a long list of cases Boudin has bungled, many with tragic consequences. Boudin’s first year in office has put his prosecutorial inexperience in the spotlight and set the stage for conflicts of interest in potentially hundreds of cases from his days as a public defender.
REDUCED CHARGES, PUNTING, AND PLEA DEALS
If there’s one mantra that defines Boudin as the city’s top prosecutor, it is “This case needs further investigation.” In October 2020 Jerry Lyons was arrested on stolen car and drug charges, which the district attorney referred to parole. In December 2020, Lyons was arrested again on stolen car and drug charges, but Boudin sent it back to police for further investigation while awaiting toxicology results. On Feb. 4, 2021, police responded to an eigth-car collision on Lake Merced Boulevard. There they found 26-year-old Sheria Musyoka, who had been out for an early morning run, deceased. Lyons was booked on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, felony hit and run, and possession of stolen property. A husband, father, and recent Dartmouth College graduate, Musyoka had moved to San Francisco just two weeks earlier. When asked by ABC7’s Dion Lim whom she blamed, Musyoka’s widow, Hannah Ege, said she blamed the district attorney.
Boudin also said he needed further evidence in the case of Tyjone Flournoy — one of four suspects in the December 2019 murder of a young mother named Ronisha Cook. In January 2021, Flournoy was arrested for the murder of legendary private detective Jack Palladino after a violent attempt to steal his camera. Palladino, who fell and hit his head, died from his injuries a few days after the attack.
In March 2020, Boudin charged Teaunte Bailey with conspiracy, robbery, destroying evidence, and child endangerment, but released him on an ankle monitor because “there wasn’t enough evidence.” One year later, 75-year-old Pak Ho was taking a morning walk near his Oakland home when he was knocked to the ground by Bailey in a violent robbery caught on surveillance video. Ho died from his injuries.
On Dec. 20, 2020, Ali Mustafa Hudson was arrested for strong-arm robbery, after allegedly stealing a passenger’s phone on a Muni bus. Rather than charge Hudson for the crime, Boudin had him transported to Solano County where Hudson faced a $5,000 misdemeanor warrant for drug possession and driving without a license. Under Covid-19 emergency orders, counties weren’t holding people on misdemeanor warrants, so Hudson was released. On Jan. 19, 2021, Sacramento sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of a domestic dispute at an apartment complex where Hudson allegedly shot and killed his mother, Ramona Hayes. From the balcony, Hudson began shooting at the deputies, who fired back and wounded him. Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert charged Hudson with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of felony attempted murder of sheriff deputies, and one count of felony false imprisonment. The complaint filed by prosecutors alleges one strike for an attempted armed robbery in 1996.
In January 2020, 13-year-old Sienna Carter went missing from the campus of the University of California, San Francisco, where she was with her parents for her sister’s pediatric diabetes treatment. The police found the girl at an Embarcadero warehouse with 22-year-old King John Baylon, who was charged with 18 felonies including kidnapping, possession of child pornography, using a minor for sex acts, sexual intercourse with an underage person, oral copulation of a person under 18, lewd acts upon a child, and human trafficking of a minor. Baylon’s bond was set at $1 million, but two days later he was released by Boudin, who set aside all charges pending further investigation. So where is Baylon now? Sitting in a Los Angeles jail cell on a warrant for GBI (great bodily injury) and charged with carrying a loaded firearm in public. The FBI has also placed a hold on him.
On March 1, 2021, Boudin retweeted a Medium post by Josh Kalven (who disclosed he went to high school with Boudin, volunteered on his campaign, and occasionally sees him socially). In the post, which appears to be filled with data provided by the district attorney’s office, Kalven argues that Boudin charges 80 percent of cases (that’s debatable), but he doesn’t tell you what really matters: the dispositions.
Take the case of Zion Young. He was charged with 11 firearms felonies, which Boudin reduced to one misdemeanor and released him on an ankle monitor. Less than three months later, Young shot and killed 19-year-old Kelvin Chew, a student out for a walk in his Portola District neighborhood, in a botched robbery attempt.
Stephanie Ching and her husband Douglas Lomas were charged with murdering Ching’s father, 73-year-old Benedict Ching, and dismembering his body. In May 2019, police performed a wellness check and discovered body parts, including his severed head, in the refrigerator. A circular saw and blood were found in the bathtub. That same day, the couple fled to China with their children but were captured and extradited back to the United States. This past October, Ching struck a plea deal with Boudin’s office and pleaded guilty to desecration of human remains. She received a suspended sentence with credit for time served and was set free. Lomas also took a plea of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to just six years in prison.
INEXPERIENCED TEAM AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
One of Boudin’s first acts as district attorney was to fire his most seasoned prosecutors. Curious, considering he said during election debates he was the only person on stage who had never prosecuted a case. Boudin’s office pled out around 20 of the 85 pending murder cases for much less than murder. The prosecutors Boudin fired had, between them, tried close to 100 murder cases in front of juries. Boudin replaced those veterans with inexperienced public defenders who had never tried murder cases.
Boudin also got rid of the “lifer unit,” which cost around $30,000 a year for two senior attorneys to handle life sentences on a part-time basis. Gang enhancements were dismissed on all pending cases and won’t be charged on future ones. He refuses to charge strikes and doesn’t want any juveniles going to jail or tried as adults, no matter how heinous their crimes. This policy has led to law enforcement sending cases to other jurisdictions. For example, a 17-year-old boy arrested in the Excelsior District for a deadly sideshow shooting in September 2020 will be prosecuted in Sacramento County. In a Jan. 15, 2021 press release about the arrest, police said there was a “nexus” between the killings in San Francisco and other crimes in Sacramento. The suspect was arrested on suspicion of murder, two counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm, assault likely to produce great bodily injury, and discharging a firearm in public. Sacramento prosecutors are petitioning the court to have the teen tried as an adult.
Critics also point to conflicts of interest Boudin has from his days as a public defender. In fact, he brought over former associates from that office, which creates potentially hundreds of conflicts with cases where either they or Boudin represented clients. For example, Joshua Pittman got credit for time served in a murder. Nine months later he was arrested in a string of home invasions. His public defender on the murder case was Eric Quant, who now works in the district attorney’s office.
In the case of Ravanell Young, the conflicts are even more troubling. As a public defender, Boudin was the attorney of record for Young when he was accused of shooting a rival gang member. Prosecutors held in-camera hearings (privileged and private) to tell the judge what they knew and weren’t giving to the defense, which wasn’t exculpatory — and the judge agreed. When the victim refused to testify, prosecutors had to drop the case, but Boudin surmised the victim was a confidential informant. Boudin also found out the victim had shot at Young previously. In his role as district attorney, Boudin filed charges against the victim for shooting Young and went to court seeking access to the confidential files.
SFPD attorneys, who were in possession of the docket, filed a motion objecting due to the conflict of interest. Quant — the former public defender now working as a district attorney — argued there was a “wall around Boudin” and stated the attorney general “has had a bunch of cases where Boudin represented the person as a public defender and had no issues.” In the end, the judge ruled to release the transcripts for “Quant’s eyes only,” which seemed naïve considering Boudin has been anxious to get his hands on them since he represented Young. Adding to the conflict, Young was booked Jan. 6, 2021 on a new charge of assault with a semi-automatic weapon. His first hearing was held in another courtroom on the same day Quant was arguing for the release of the confidential files from his previous case. So Boudin’s office will now be prosecuting his former client as well as his former client’s victim.
In his original mission statement on the SFDA website, Boudin said his number-one priority was to “review all officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths, and other unlawful use of force allegations,” and his second priority was to “safeguard the integrity of the criminal justice system via a conviction review process focused on assessing and remedying colorable claims of innocence.”
The statement has since been removed, but like a public defender in district attorney’s clothing, Boudin brought those priorities with him — along with allies for the cause.
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