A former rookie San Francisco police officer has been charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting a man through the window of a moving police car in 2017, District Attorney Chesa Boudin said Monday.
Christopher Samayoa was four days out of the Police Academy when he shot 42-year-old Keita O’Neil in the head during a police pursuit near the Alice Griffith housing projects on Dec. 1, 2017.
Samayoa was charged Monday with voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, assault by an executive officer, assault with a semi-automatic firearm and negligent discharge of a firearm.
This is believed to be the first time in San Francisco history that the District Attorney’s Office has charged an officer with homicide.
Boudin announced the charging decision at a press conference outside the Hall of Justice and said that Samayoa made a “terrible, tragic and unlawful decision to pull and shoot his gun.”
“In San Francisco there has been a long history of officer-involved shootings leading to no accountability whatsoever, further cementing the idea that police are above the law,” Boudin said. “That stops today.”
Samayoa is expected to surrender to authorities on the charges this week, Boudin said. However, the District Attorney’s Office will not seek to hold him in custody pending trial since he is not a flight risk.
An attorney for Samayoa did not immediately return a request for comment.
San Francisco Police Officers Association President Tony Montoya issued a statement in response to the charging decision that said the “criminal justice system will allow for the facts surrounding this case to be disclosed.”
“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,” Montoya said.
Samayoa shot O’Neil while riding in the passenger seat of a patrol car with his field training officer. Police were chasing O’Neil as he drove a stolen California Lottery van that was carjacked earlier that day.
Samayoa fired a single round through the window of his door when O’Neil pulled over at Fitzgerald Avenue and Griffith Street, exited the van and ran past the patrol car.
O’Neil was struck and died at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The shooting was captured on body-worn camera footage.
In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner, Boudin said the fact that Police Chief Bill Scott fired Samayoa after the shooting illustrated just how troubling the case was.
“It’s telling that in the history of the San Francisco Police Department when an officer shoots someone in the line of duty, even when they kill someone, the traditional response from the department is to immediately give them a medal of valor,” Boudin said. “Here, officer Samayoa was fired.”
Samayoa was in his probationary period as a police officer when Scott released him.
While his lack of experience may explain his actions, Boudin argued it does not justify the shooting or provide him with a legal defense to the alleged crime.
The shooting prompted O’Neil’s family to file an excessive force lawsuit against the City and County of San Francisco naming Samayoa and his field training officer, Edric Talusan.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of O’Neil’s mother Judy O’Neil, is still pending.
In an interview after the announcement, an attorney for O’Neil, John Burris, questioned whether Boudin could have charged Samayoa with murder but called the manslaughter decision “adequate.”
“This is a flagrant use of violence with no justification,” Burris said. “It’s about time. I don’t know why anyone would have difficulty filing charges here.”
Boudin told the Examiner he could elevate the charge to murder at a later point in the case.
“I ran on a platform that included a commitment to not overcharge cases,” Boudin said. “That commitment applies equally. It means if it’s a close call, we air on the side of charging the case in a conservative way in the way that we know we can prove.”
Burris said he was not shocked by the charging decision given that Boudin ran a campaign pledging to hold police accountable last year.
Also, Boudin hired an attorney who previously worked for Burris, Lateef Gray, to lead his Independent Investigations Bureau that examines police shootings, Burris noted.
“I’m not surprised,” Burris said. “The only question is did you have the courage to do it.”
This story has been updated to include additional comments and information.