On May 18, the family and legal team of Keita O’Neil was informed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office that the SFPD officer who killed him in 2017 would not be charged.
O’Neil, an unarmed carjacking suspect, was fatally shot by SFPD officer Christopher Samayoa on Dec. 1, 2017 as he was running away. Samayoa, who was only on his fourth day on the job, shot at O’Neil while in the driver seat of a moving patrol car.
While criminal charges were filed against Samayoa in late 2020 by then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin — who was recalled last year amid a heavily funded wave of rightwing rhetoric and replaced by the pro-police Brooke Jenkins — O’Neil’s case was being reviewed by Bonta’s office, and had until June 5 to make their decision to pursue the case.
April Green, O’Neil’s aunt, informed El Tecolote that she and her legal team met with Bonta on May 18, and were informed that charges would not be pursued against Samayoa. Disappointed, Green called out Bonta for not taking a “stand against police murdering our Black and brown men.”
“He manipulated the Californian people to vote for him on the platform of holding police accountable for these unjustly murders that plagues our folks,” Green said. “We need a California Attorney General who stands by their legislation, which Bonta does not.”
In a letter to Jenkins dated May 18, Bonta wrote: “After conducting this comprehensive and thorough review and considering the applicable laws, we conclude that based on all of the evidence available at this time, and considering all likely defenses, the charges against Officer Samayoa cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We conclude, therefore, that the decision to dismiss the case against Officer Samayoa is not an abuse of discretion.”
The letter continued: “The facts known to Officer Samayoa at the time of the shooting also support a fleeing felon defense. Officer Samayoa knew that Mr. O’Neil was fleeing in the carjacked van. Carjacking is a violent felony, and under the 2017 law would have been a “forcible and atrocious” crime. Mr. O’Neil led officers on a high-speed pursuit. He gave no indication of his intent to surrender either during the pursuit or at its termination. When he jumped from the still-moving van, he did not run away from the police officers, but instead ran directly at the officers’ patrol car. As perceived by Officer Samayoa, Mr. O’Neal’s actions were aggressive and indicated no intent to surrender peacefully. The officer believed, as stated above, that Mr. O’Neil was reaching behind him to retrieve a firearm. Under these circumstances, we cannot prove that Officer Samayoa’s use of force by shooting Mr. O’Neil to stop his flight was not necessary, given the facts known by the officer.”
Footage from Samayoa’s body camera shows him in the passenger seat of an SFPD patrol car, cocking his gun before even encountering O’Neil. Before the speeding patrol car comes to a complete stop, Samayoa can be seen aiming his gun and firing at O’Neil through his passenger-side window. Samayoa encountered O’Neil less than a second before shooting him.
“To the best of my ability. I did whatever whatever I could do,” Samayoa said in a deposition. “This was an exigent circumstance. The violent felon was advancing towards me, in an aggressive manner, so I had to adapt to what chose to do. So, those other things you do when feasible. You deal with a life-threatening situation first.”
Jenkins, the pro-police District Attorney who was appointed by London Breed following Boudin’s recall, moved to dismiss charges against Samayoa earlier this year, but not before the case was presented to Bonta. Green, in addition to organizers and protests, kept O’Neil’s name in the public eye. On March 22, 2023, the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee adopted a resolution urging Bonta’s office to conduct an independent investigation into O’Neil’s death, citing California’s law AB 1506. The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2021, required California’s Department of Justice “to investigate all incidents of an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian in the state.”
Since the resolution was adopted, the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee wrote a letter to Bonta’s office on April 4, 2023, urging them to take the case. The Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club wrote their own letter to Bonta’s office on May 5, 2023.