Breed appoints recall proponent Brooke Jenkins as SF DA

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday July 7, 2022
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San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Samuel Feng administers the oath of office to San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins July 8 at City Hall. Photo: Rick Gerharter
San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Samuel Feng administers the oath of office to San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins July 8 at City Hall. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Brooke Jenkins, the former prosecutor who jumped ship from then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin's team in 2021 and went on to campaign for his successful recall from office, was appointed by Mayor London Breed July 7 to succeed him as interim DA.

San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Samuel Feng swore in Jenkins July 8 at City Hall.

Calling her a voice of compassion at a brief, late afternoon press conference in City Hall, Breed said Jenkins "had sacrificed her career" to fight for the people of San Francisco, and for the victims in need of a voice.

"There's a lot of work to be done in this city," she said. Too many times, she said, San Franciscans had seen "someone arrested and let go, and arrested and let go" only to kill people on the streets in cases that could have been avoided.

That said, Breed said Jenkins would strike a balance between criminal justice reform and public safety.

"Brooke comes from a place of fairness," said the mayor. "This is not just about locking people up and throwing away the key; this is not what we're about as a city."

Boudin was recalled in the June 7 election; the Board of Supervisors certified the results June 28, clearing the way for Breed to appoint his successor, who will need to run in November to complete his term that ends in early January 2024 and for a full four-year term in 2023.

Boudin issued a statement July 8, just before Jenkins was sworn in.

"It has been my honor to serve as San Francisco's district attorney as we worked for a safer and more just city," he stated. "I am proud of the work we did to serve victims and to bring much-needed reforms and accountability to our justice system. This is work I will continue in the months and years ahead.

"I have reached out to Brooke Jenkins to offer any assistance I can provide in ensuring a smooth transition," Boudin continued. "I am tremendously humbled by the strong, talented team my administration has built, which will continue to serve San Franciscans. I am proud of the new programs my administration has launched to promote safety and justice in our city despite unprecedented challenges."

Early on, Jenkins — who identifies as a Black Latina and is an ally — was seen as one of several possibilities to replace Boudin, who was elected to office in 2019 on a progressive campaign of criminal justice reform, although she told people assembled for the announcement she had only learned of her appointment a little earlier that day.

Among others considered for the interim post were District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani; San Francisco Superior Court Judge Eric Fleming; former police officer and San Francisco police commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese; civil rights attorney and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice Joseph M. Alioto Jr.; and Alameda County prosecutor Nancy Tung — who captured only 19% percent of the vote in her race against Boudin for DA in 2019.

Reaction from LGBTQ political leaders was muted when the news was announced. The San Francisco Chronicle was the first to report Jenkins' appointment.

Despite her visibility during the recall effort, Jenkins is not as well known as her predecessor. Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, when asked for a comment about her appointment, replied that while he wasn't surprised she had been chosen, he didn't know her very well. "Her name had certainly been in the mix," he told the Bay Area Reporter.

"I look forward to getting to know her better and wish her well in a very difficult job," Mandelman said.

In a tweet, Mandelman wrote that he looked forward to working with Jenkins "to get San Francisco back on track to safer streets, advance shared criminal justice reform goals, and chart a more sensible and sustainable approach for those who have repeatedly cycled through our broken justice system."

Other community leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in its own tweet pledged to "hold Jenkins accountable & push her to uphold public safety policies consistent with the values of civil liberties & civil rights; and adopt solutions focused on rehabilitation & treatment."

Top spokesperson for recall campaign

Jenkins, 40, captured attention when she resigned from her position as assistant district attorney in the DA's office in October 2019, as the B.A.R. noted at the time.

"My decision to resign was the result of a growing belief that Chesa Boudin lacks the desire and willingness to prosecute crime effectively in San Francisco," Jenkins said in an October 25 virtual news conference. "He has proven his policies and his approach is anything but progressive. We have seen crime increase, justice wane, and lives being lost."

After leaving office, she went on to become a key spokesperson at Safer SF Without Boudin, the successful recall effort. (Another recall effort, launched by failed mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg, fizzled when it fell short of the necessary number of signatures needed to make it onto the ballot). Jenkins made the rounds, speaking out about Boudin in interviews with numerous news outlets, including the B.A.R.

During an editorial board meeting with the B.A.R. in April, Jenkins was one of the representatives of the Safer SF campaign. She insisted she shares many of Boudin's progressive values but disagreed strongly with how he carried them out. (The paper's editorial board went on to oppose the recall.)

"I 100% agree we need to find and focus on alternatives to locking people up," Jenkins said during the Zoom call. "That's not the solution in every case. That's what I want to see be a focus for us. That's something that Chesa has not done. He has not created any sort of new creative program or worked with the public defender's office in the courts to create a new collaborative court to address more issues that people are dealing with."

For his part, Boudin told the B.A.R. during a June 28 interview that he hoped his successor would continue some of his progressive policies, like no-cash bail and not prosecuting juveniles as adults. It is unclear where Jenkins stands on those issues.

Jenkins was clear on matters such as violent crime, property crimes, and open-air drug sales, however.

"But I want to make clear, holding offenders accountable does not preclude us from criminal justice reform," Jenkins told the crowd assembled for the mayor's announcement.

Jenkins vowed to be compassionate but swore to clamp down on open air drug sales, and property crimes, as well as hate crimes, which have increased dramatically in California, as well as San Francisco. Hate crimes, she said, "will no longer be tolerated. Our Asian community will no longer live in fear."

"It is the district attorney's responsibility to hold those responsible for hate accountable," she said.

Jenkins also promised to work with the San Francisco Police Department and to work with SFPD Police Chief William Scott to restore the relationship between the DA's office and the police. She will pursue police abuse, she added, but "I will make it clear that we are committed to making San Francisco safer."

Responding to a question from a San Francisco Standard reporter about incidents in which she might have coached witnesses or had inappropriate access to information concerning the murder of her cousin after she left the DA's office, as mentioned earlier, she stated she has always been ethical in her work.

"I have never been found to do otherwise," she said.

Boudin could run again

Boudin could run in the fall to again be elected as DA. As the B.A.R. and other news outlets reported last week, he has not ruled out doing so and is considering entering the race.

Both Jenkins and Boudin have experienced the fallout from criminal violence in their own lives. Boudin, whose parents were members of the 1970s revolutionary terrorist group, the Weather Underground, grew up without them after they were incarcerated following their part in the murder of a Brinks security guard in a botched bank robbery in 1981. Jenkins lost a cousin in July 2020 to a gang shooting in Bayview. That incident was key in her decision to leave her job with Boudin's office, she said. Jenkins claimed that there were two shooters among a possible four individuals who were involved in a gang.

"As a result, it's very difficult to prosecute under a simple murder charge," Jenkins explained. "What we know is that, therefore, the DA's office should have charged for gang conspiracy. ... Instead, Chesa and his staff declined to charge the case outright initially."

After Boudin was persuaded to file charges, the gang-related charges were "dismissed without explanation less than 30 days later," Jenkins claimed.

"Chesa touted his position on not using gang charges or enhancements was to help the Black and Brown community in San Francisco," Jenkins said. "In reality, it has had the opposite effect. ... Blacks and Latinos in San Francisco deserve the same protection as everyone else."

Updated, 7/7/22: This article has been updated with information and comments from the mayor's announcement.

Updated, 7/8/22: This article has been updated with a statement from Chesa Boudin.

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