Critics skeptical of San Francisco’s new reform-minded D.A.

After a turbulent and expensive recall 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 London Breed appointed Brooke Jenkins to the interim post on Thursday, drawing praise from San Francisco Police Commissioner Bill Scott and the police union.

However, Boudin’s supporters have pushed back, questioning Jenkins’ experience and record of criminal justice reform in a city known for its historically progressive policies but where public concerns about crime are a more typical law-and-order response of officials triggered.

“Unfortunately, as we all know, we are at a tipping point in San Francisco,” Jenkins said during a news conference Thursday night following Breed’s announcement. “San Franciscans do not feel safe, and public safety concerns have become their number one concern.”

The recall, which Boudin ousted midway through his first term, became a referendum on some of San Francisco’s most painfully visible social issues, including homelessness, property crime and drug addiction.

A man in a suit raises his right fist as he walks past a woman holding a sign that reads "No on H"

then-dist. atty Chesa Boudin, right, in San Francisco on Election Day last month.

(Noah Berger/Associated Press)

The campaign Jenkins participated in portrayed Boudin as a mild-mannered prosecutor. It tried to link its reform policies to a spate of high-profile crimes, including a fatal hit-and-run involving a probationer, a string of robberies at high-end Union Square stores, and a spate of attacks on elderly Asian-American residents.

Property and violent crime actually fell by double-digit percentages during Boudin’s first two years in office. However, some individual crime categories increased at the same time: burglaries increased by 47%; Vehicle theft, 36%. The number of homicides also increased, although Boudin took office a year after the city recorded its lowest number of homicides in more than half a century in 2019.

Under her leadership, Jenkins said Thursday, the district attorney’s office will “work diligently every day to restore order to our city and make our city the beautiful city we know.”

She pledged to look into cases against violent and repeat offenders, hate crimes and drug use on the street, but said she would remain committed to criminal justice reform. Jenkins said she will also make curbing property crime a priority.

However, critics said her appointment signaled a backsliding in efforts to reform the prosecutor’s office.

John Hamasaki, a San Francisco defense attorney and former police commissioner who frequently opposed Boudin’s recall, was vocal in criticizing Jenkins on Twitter, calling her unethical and generally incompetent.

Jenkins has no management experience and “a pretty good history of what I believe to be objectively unethical behavior,” Hamasaki told The Times on Friday.

He pointed to Jenkins’ prosecution of Daniel Gudino, who killed his mother during a 2020 mental health episode.

“This was a mentally ill person 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 deadlocked on whether he was legally insane, and then-Dist. atty Boudin chose not to fight the insanity plea over Jenkins’ objections, according to SFist. Gudino was committed to a psychiatric hospital, and Jenkins cited the case in an interview with a San Francisco Chronicle columnist about why she left Boudin’s office.

“She resigned because she lost and the district attorney didn’t allow her to try again,” Hamasaki said. “There is enough in her story to show that she does not have the experience or judgment to run the office responsibly.”

The San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club said in a statement Friday that Breed’s appointment of Jenkins signals a return to cash bail, the use of strikes to increase penalties, gang enhancements and charging minors as adults — all practices Boudin acknowledges tried to end.

“We unequivocally oppose this dangerous appointment of a person committed to the vision of returning to a world where our black and brown communities are incarcerated en masse. where ‘guilty until proven innocent’ is the motto of the current holder of the prosecution service,” the statement said.

Jenkins denied 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 criminals accountable does not mean that we cannot move forward with progressive criminal justice reform.”

Jenkins spoke about her experiences as a Black and Hispanic woman with family members charged with crimes.

Reform is needed, she said, adding that she works to improve diversionary programs, create new programs that can serve as alternatives to incarceration, and create an alternative court for women.

“I want to make it very clear today that accountability and justice come in many forms,” ​​Jenkins said. “For some, accountability might have to be a prison, but for the majority of people, it’s something else.”

She pledged to ensure her office uses all available resources to give people accused of crime a chance to change their lives and break the cycle of recidivism.

Jenkins, who spent seven years as an assistant district attorney and worked in the hate crime, sexual assault and homicide departments, will serve until a special election in November to decide who will complete Boudin’s term through 2023 – an election in which she ran and could face Boudin.

Like other prosecutors in the nationwide movement to reshape the criminal justice system, Boudin ran on a platform to reduce mass incarceration and redirect low-level offenders to drug and psychiatric treatment rather than jail cells.

His fall may have national ramifications, including for Los Angeles County Dist. atty George Gascón, who faces his second recall attempt in two years.

A man in a suit stands in front of cheering supporters

LA County Dist. atty George Gascón, who previously held the post in San Francisco, faces recall fueled by anger against progressive policies similar to Boudin’s.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Jenkins plans to meet with her management team to discuss which of the existing San Francisco office policies can be retained 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 as “a person of principle and integrity” and that he looks forward to working closely with her.

The San Francisco Police Officers Assn. echoed the boss’s comments in a statement.

“We urge Ms Jenkins to hold criminals fairly accountable, to show compassion for those in the criminal justice system who need and deserve it, and to strongly protect and support victims of crime who seek justice,” union officials said.

For Greg Totten, chief executive of 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 any reform that jeopardizes their core security. They just want the reform to be thought through.”

He criticized top prosecutors like Boudin and Gascón, who formerly held the post in San Francisco, calling them “rogue prosecutors”

And Totten, who served as Ventura County’s district attorney for 18 years through early 2021, said Jenkin’s lack of managerial experience shouldn’t be an issue.

“Having administrative experience, having surveillance experience certainly helps,” he said. “It’s more important to surround yourself with people who have experience. The most important asset is a basic understanding of the responsibilities of the profession.”

American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California executive director Abdi Soltani said his organization will hold Jenkins accountable and urge her to pursue policies consistent with civil liberties and civil rights values.

“The past two years have been difficult and we recognize that people are frustrated and angry, but reinstating discriminatory policies that criminalize poverty and addiction will not make San Francisco safer,” Soltani said.

Duffie Stone, a past president and current chief executive officer of the National District Attorneys Assn., said prosecutors are always striving to improve the criminal justice system, but that reform cannot stand in the way of the pursuit of justice.

“You have to look at the person and realize that there are some people who will never commit a crime again,” said Stone, a South Carolina 14th Circuit attorney. “These are first-time nonviolent offenders and they need to go to diversionary programs.”

Veterans returning from active duty with mental health issues that lead them to commit a crime should go to a veterans’ court so they can be held accountable while being treated, he said, citing an example.

“But there are also people who embrace antisocial behavior, and that has to be acknowledged,” Stone said. “The most progressive thing we can do as prosecutors [is] Intelligence-Led Law Enforcement. It starts with determining… very early on… who you’re dealing with?”

Stone said he sees the criminal justice system moving in a direction where it can identify individuals eligible for diversionary programs and other alternatives to incarceration, as well as individuals who are repeat offenders, and respond appropriately to their needs.

In her Thursday night press conference, Jenkins said San Francisco is “a second-chance city, but the truth is we need to draw a line with people choosing hate, violence, and a life of crime.” Critics skeptical of San Francisco’s new reform-minded D.A.

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