DA Boudin declines to charge officers in two police shootings

District Attorney Chesa Boudin has declined to charge three San Francisco police officers who discharged their firearms in two different...

District Attorney Chesa Boudin has declined to charge three San Francisco police officers who discharged their firearms in two different shootings, including the October killing of a carjacking suspect who rushed officers with a blade.

Officers Nick Delgado and Kyle Roach will not face criminal charges for shooting and killing 21-year-old Cesar Vargas on Otis and Brady streets less than two months ago on Oct. 21 as he sprinted toward them with a knife, Boudin said.

Officer Jordan Townsend is also not being charged for firing twice at a man who advanced on him with a screwdriver as he backpedaled outside a Jones Street residential hotel in the Tenderloin earlier this year on April 21.

Townsend missed his shots and police later arrested the man, Thomas O’Bannon, after an hours-long standoff.

In both cases, Boudin said the officers fired in defense of themselves or others.

“In any of these incidents there are opportunities for learning and improving police tactics and police policy,” Boudin said. “The fact that we are declining to file criminal charges in these two incidents is in no way a suggestion that everything was done perfectly.”

“It’s simply a recognition that the use of force was lawful,” he added.

Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said both shootings show officers “exercise tremendous restraint during very volatile situations and use proportional force only when necessary.”

“District attorneys should uphold the law and allow police officers to defend themselves when they are attacked,” Montoya said. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case with our local district attorney.”

Boudin announced his decisions shortly after obtaining charges against officers in two other police shootings.

Last Friday, Boudin secured an indictment against Officer Christopher Flores on charges as serious as assault with a semi-automatic firearm over the shooting of 25-year-old Jamaica Hampton last December.

In late November, Boudin decided to charge fired rookie Officer Christopher Samayoa with manslaughter for fatally shooting Keita O’Neil through the window of a police car in December 2017.

Boudin was able to close the Vargas and O’Bannon cases faster than usual for the District Attorney’s Office, which typically took a year if not longer to decide whether to file charges in police shootings cases under former District Attorney George Gascon.

Gascon took more than two years to decide not to charge the officers who fatally shot Mario Woods in December 2015, for instance. Unlike Boudin, he also never charged a police officer over a shooting.

But Gascon did assemble a special unit called the Independent Investigations Bureau to probe police shootings. While IIB struggled with personnel issues during Gascon’s tenure, Boudin has said the unit is now up and running.

San Francisco police released body camera footage of incidents leading up to the police shooting of Cesar Vargas on Oct. 10. (Courtesy SFPD)

San Francisco police released body camera footage of incidents leading up to the police shooting of Cesar Vargas on Oct. 10. (Courtesy SFPD)

Delgado and Roach shot Vargas after he jumped on the windshield of a Toyota Prius and pulled the driver out of the car, police said.

The officers chased Vargas down a side street and shot him when he ran toward them with a knife yelling “Bitch I’ll kill ya,” according to body-worn camera footage of the shooting released by police.

Boudin said the encounter illustrated the dangers law enforcement officers face in the field.

“Police have a very difficult, dangerous job,” Boudin said. “Cases like this one make that abundantly clear.”

The shooting prompted a protest at Tenderloin Station and concerns about whether police could have de-escalated the situation.

Similarly, some questioned whether police could have handled the O’Bannon shooting differently.

O’Bannon had locked himself inside a room in the lobby of a residential hotel when police responded to the scene. He appeared agitated in surveillance video later released by police and had struck the window with a wooden board.

Police, a social worker and a paramedic with the San Francisco Fire Department tried to convince O’Bannon to come out of the room for more than an hour before officers decided to extract him.

One expert asked if police could have waited longer in an interview shortly after the shooting.

“There is a lot that you can point to that the officers could have done differently,” said Lizze Buchen, director of the ACLU of California’s Criminal Justice Project. “It seems like when these officers had this individual in this locked room, there was just no need to escalate that situation by opening the door and getting themselves closer to him.”

O’Bannon exited the back door when police fired a bean-bag gun and discharged pepper spray into the room. He followed officers as they scrambled out of the residential hotel and onto the sidewalk.

Townsend fired twice and missed after tripping on a trash can as O’Bannon advanced toward him with a screwdriver.

O’Bannon was later arrested after a police standoff. Earlier that morning, he had allegedly attacked a dog walker with the wooden board.

He is still facing multiple felony charges including assault.

“His case was referred to Behavioral Health Court and he is currently in compliance and in a residential program,” Boudin said.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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