Feds punted to Bonta in Banko Brown case, letter shows

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday July 18, 2023
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Banko Brown was killed in April.
Banko Brown was killed in April.

The federal government told the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last month it's deferring to the judgment of the California Attorney General's office regarding an inquiry into San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins' decision not to prosecute the killer of Banko Brown.

Brown was a 24-year-old unarmed unhoused Black trans man shot by a security guard outside a Market Street Walgreens in April. Community activists and some city officials had called on the justice department to review Jenkins' handling of the case.

Among them had been District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, the lone Black member of the board. But Walton disclosed July 17 that he had received a letter from the justice department's criminal division, dated 28, that it was punting on the matter.

"We will keep working to seek justice for Banko Brown," pledged Walton.

Jenkins said her office had dismissed a charge of homicide in the case because evidence showed that security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony was acting in self-defense. According to store video released by the DA's office, Anthony confronted Brown, tackled him on the ground, then appeared to let him leave. As Brown is walking backward outside the store, Anthony shot him, the video shows.

Walgreens cut ties with security company Kingdom Group Protective Services — which had just moved to a "hands-on" policy regarding stolen merchandise the day of the killing — in late May. Anthony was attempting to stop Brown from allegedly leaving the store with unpaid items.

San Francisco supervisors voted unanimously in May to ask the federal DOJ and California Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate Jenkins' decision. Bonta's office announced it would be investigating, as the Bay Area Reporter reported May 24.

The following month the DOJ wrote Angela Calvillo, clerk of the Board of Supervisors, that "based on the information you provided, you may wish to forward your complaint to the State Attorney General for your state, who has jurisdiction to review the matters that you raise."

"If you have evidence of a violation of federal criminal law, you should provide that information to the office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in your area," the letter, attributed to correspondence management staff, stated. "In cases concerning alleged violations of federal law, the FBI will determine whether a federal investigation may be warranted."

Separately, in an undated letter, DOJ intergovernmental liaison Megan A. Bennett wrote Walton that his own letter asking for a federal inquiry had been received.

"The Department acknowledges receipt of your letter and will refer your request for a review to the proper investigative agency or component for assessment," Bennett wrote to Walton, who on Monday also released the correspondence. "The Department takes requests of this nature seriously. The Department does not ordinarily confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. You should not interpret this acknowledgement as confirmation of an investigation of the matters described in your letter. We hope this information is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact this office if we may provide additional assistance regarding this or any other matter."

John Burris, a longtime civil rights attorney suing Walgreens, the security guard, and the security company on behalf of Brown's family for no less than $25 million, told the B.A.R. July 18 that the DOJ "doesn't see federal law as significant — it's a state case."

He said he hopes Bonta's office finds that Jenkins abused her discretion as DA in her decision not to charge Anthony.

"I don't think federal law is the issue," Burris opined. "If there was, it would've been a federal lawsuit."

But Burris didn't entirely rule out that federal law might be at issue.

"It'd be a civil rights issue if, in fact, it [Brown's killing] was because he was trans," Burris added. "If it was determined there was a prior relationship between them or if it were clear he was in fact trans that would be different. If it was because he was trans, it could be a violation of federal civil rights."

Nothing to either effect, however, has been established in evidence at this time, Burris said, and his state civil lawsuit is proceeding.

The Young Women's Freedom Center — where Brown had worked as a volunteer — did not return a request for comment for this report July 18. Neither has Jenkins' office.

Bonta's office responded to a request for comment with a spokesperson stating, "We can confirm that our office has agreed to review whether the San Francisco District Attorney's decision not to file charges was an abuse of discretion. Please view attached letter sent to attorney John Burris confirming our review. Beyond that, we are unable to comment further."

Updated, 7/18/23: This article has been updated with comment from AG Rob Bonta's office.

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