DA drops charges against man seen in video of officer using knee restraint

Footage leads to calls for SF police to explicity ban move used in death of George Floyd

District Attorney Chesa Boudin has dismissed criminal charges against a 19-year-old man who was accused of resisting arrest after newly surfaced video of the incident appeared to show an officer kneeling on his neck.

In an interview Tuesday, Boudin told the San Francisco Examiner he dropped the resisting arrest and criminal threats charges against Kajon Busby after seeing images of the encounter over the weekend that resembled the footage from the killing of George Floyd.

“In this moment, the iconic image that has come to emblematically symbolize police excessive force is having someone lie prone on the ground with their face in the concrete,” Boudin said. “That is what the video of the arrest of Mr. Busby shows.”

Boudin took a closer look into the case after the Examiner first reported Saturday on cellphone video appearing to show Officer Claudia Valle kneeling on Busby’s neck while several officers detained him near his home in Hunters Point back in January.

Police later released body-worn camera footage that made it less clear whether Valle knelt on his neck or on his upper back, as the San Francisco Police Officers Association has said.

“What’s news is not when former Public Defender Chesa Boudin drops charges against an accused suspect, that’s a daily occurrence,” SFPOA President Tony Montoya said. “The news would be when he actually prosecutes dangerous individuals.”

Busby was accused of threatening his neighbor during a dispute over a missing dog and of refusing to leave the area when police arrived. He told the Examiner that the officer knelt on his neck and that he struggled to breathe during the encounter.

Boudin said the case never should have been charged. He described the evidence for the underlying criminal threats charge as “very weak” and said that the alleged victim declined to participate with authorities.

Boudin also rolled out a new policy on Monday requiring his office to review all footage from an incident before filing resisting arrest or assault on an officer charges. His office filed the charges against Busby without viewing body-worn camera footage, he said.

While Boudin said the Busby and Floyd cases are somewhat similar in terms of the particular tactic used by police, he also said “by a longshot this is not the George Floyd case.”

“The knee was only on the neck of Mr. Busby for a very short period of time,” Boudin said. “It’s a very important difference.”

In the Floyd case, fired Officer Derek Chauvin appeared to press his knee into the neck for some eight minutes. He is now under arrest facing a murder charge. The officer in the Busby case appeared to use her knee for less than a minute.

Boudin also noted that the officer in the Busby case is “female and substantially smaller” than the officer who applied his body weight to Floyd’s neck.

The footage has led to calls for Police Chief Bill Scott and the Police Commission to explicitly ban the knee-to-neck restraint used in the death of Floyd.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Dean Preston said he would push legislation to make the policy change and called for a hearing to explore the issue at the Board of Supervisors.

“We need this made crystal clear for officers and the public,” Preston said. “Under no circumstances should these deadly restraint techniques be tolerated.”

While officers are barred from using chokeholds, San Francisco Police Department policy does not address applying pressure to the neck with a knee in plain language.

Public Defender Manohar Raju first called for the policy change on Monday.

Chief Scott has launched an administrative investigation into the Busby incident.

He also asked the Department of Accountability to independently investigate the case, and directed police trainers to determine whether policy changes are needed.

Busby’s public defender, Alejandra Ramirez, applauded the decision to drop charges. She chalked up the situation to “a misunderstanding between neighbors” and described Busby as a “responsible, sensitive and goofy” teenager.

“The first time that we spoke he did not bring up the manner in which he was arrested,” Ramirez said. “I came to find out he simply did not think ‘it mattered.’ This infuriated me because a 19-year-old African American kid, raised in Hunter’s Point… should not have to believe that excessive force used by police officers is ‘normal.’”

This story has been updated to include additional comments.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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