Corruption News

SF DA candidate John Hamasaki insists he’s not Chesa Boudin


Since announcing his campaign, he’s been labeled “controversial,” “fiery” and “aggressive.” Hamasaki resigned from the police commission in March, and it is not clear whether he would have had enough supervisor votes to earn a second term. In addition to serving as a police commissioner, Hamasaki worked as a defense attorney and has his own firm, Hamasaki Law. 

In an interview with SFGATE, Hamasaki said his past beefs will not prevent him from doing the job of district attorney. In fact, he believes that his past criticisms of Mayor London Breed, the police department and supervisors demonstrate he’ll be independent of other political offices. He said that appeal is important given criticisms that Jenkins is too close to the mayor’s office.

While he did not offer many policy specifics, he pledged that he will not be a re-run of Boudin and will instead chart his own path. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

SFGATE: Let’s go through major Jenkins policy changes from the Boudin era: On all of cash bail, juvenile charging and pre-trial detention, she has given prosecutors more discretion and lifted blanket bans on certain practices. Would you continue these changes, revert them back to the Boudin practices, or do something different?

Hamasaki: I’ve looked at a lot of different prosecutors’ policies. My policies would be my own, and wouldn’t be the interim district attorney or former district attorney’s policies. Right now, people want to see a serious and thoughtful leader, and not someone operating as part of the political apparatus of the mayor. Guiding all of my decisions will be public safety. People in San Francisco don’t feel safe regardless of what the data may say, and we can’t disregard how people feel about things right now. We have to improve public safety, we have to improve the perception of the city locally and worldwide because we’re so dependent on tourism.

I will look to the best practices on how to implement those.

SFGATE: Are there any specific practices you’ve seen that you’re ready to commit to?

Hamasaki: What I’ll say is my policies are under development right now, and what I’ve done is gathered policies from different offices. I did policy work for the police commission, and it was all about improving public safety. Just one word can change an entire policy, so I want to study more before saying I’m ready to implement certain policies.

Lots of Jenkins policies are half-formed, where they give discretion to individual line attorneys. I think they should have that discretion, but as a leader, you have to decide what you want the organization to do. Every prosecutor’s office I’ve studied has had stronger oversight over individual prosecutors.

SFGATE: On drug crimes, and fentanyl specifically, Boudin rarely charged suspected fentanyl dealers with possession with intent to sell, but accessory after the fact. He said that state law requiring prosecutors to weigh immigration status constrained him, and Jenkins has her own new policies around fentanyl. How would you handle suspected fentanyl dealers?

Hamasaki: I’m not afraid or reticent to charge and prosecute people for selling a deadly drug on our streets. We’ve had so much destruction, damage and death on our streets. We need accountability, and that can look different for a first-time offender versus someone who repeats the crime over and over again. There needs to be escalating consequences, that includes incarceration.

A thing San Francisco is really frustrated with is this revolving door of justice, where someone is catching one case, then within two weeks they’re catching another case, seemingly having no consequences for their actions. We need those consequences, those need to escalate. We need to show it’s not acceptable in any neighborhood in our city. California law requires us to consider immigration status, and I will follow that. If there’s an equal way to hold people accountable, we will seek that. I’m not setting people up for deportation on drug offenses. To be clear, there are a number of charges that carry the same sentence as deportable offenses. When appropriate, those charges should be used. As bad as the conduct may be, they should have a chance to redeem themselves instead of being sent away to a country they barely know when they can be punished equally with other charges.

SFGATE: Where do you have disagreements with Chesa Boudin?

Hamasaki: There was a concern Boudin’s policies gave too little discretion to line prosecutors, and there’s an equal concern the interim DA has allowed too much discretion. With that much discretion, there’s unlikely to be a consistency of outcomes. One of the aspects of the law is punishing people equally for the same conduct. For my policies, I want strong oversight of the office, to allow for discretion, but to still ensure policies are followed closely.

SFGATE: Beyond attorney discretion, are there any specific policy areas where you disagree with Boudin?

Hamasaki: I think what San Francisco needs is a strong, independent, thoughtful DA. As far as agreement with the interim or former DA goes, I have to chart my own path. It’s not as simple as agreeing or disagreeing with a single policy, I think it’s about management. We need a strong manager, and attorneys need a leader who will restore confidence and morale in the office. While I haven’t hammered out individual policies, what makes me uniquely suited for the job is being able to lead people.

SFGATE: Let’s talk about your “fiery” history and Twitter activity. You drew criticism for likening Boudin recall supporters to white supremacists, do you stand by that? I’m talking about your tweets about how the recall watch party was held in a tiki bar. [Hamasaki wrote in a since-deleted tweet it was a “nod to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville,” and tweeted a picture of the Charlottesville rallygoers with the caption, “Damn this Yes on H recall watch party is getting ugly.”]

Hamasaki: I thought it was a curious choice to use imagery from Charlottesville, which is something that made me put my Hawaiian shirts in the back of my closet. Tiki memorabilia has been adopted by the right, and I thought it was a very curious choice to have their celebration at tiki bar.

SFGATE: You wrote in a July 2020 tweet that police and prosecutors are “are one and the same” and both should be defunded. Do you still believe that?

Hamasaki: People took that out of context. Read the full tweet.

SFGATE: I’m looking at the full tweet. It says, in full, “There is no thin blue line between police and prosecutors, they are one and the same. Defund them both.” You were quote-tweeting a tweet about the Solano County district attorney, but you used general language. Are you arguing that in that tweet, you were only calling to defund that one office?

Hamasaki: Yes, it was only in the instance of that particular story. We cannot encourage cops killing individuals and prosecutors covering up crimes.

SFGATE: So you don’t want to defund the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office?

Hamasaki: No. I wouldn’t be seeking the job only to defund myself.

SFGATE: Can voters trust that your online behavior and combativeness won’t seep into your job? In the early 2000s you were charged with misdemeanor stalking and harassment by telephone, but those charges were dismissed. What happened there? [San Francisco County Superior Court records show charges were filed in March 2001, but no further information is available because records on misdemeanor cases are only available for 10 years under San Francisco law.]

Hamasaki: It was a dispute over money, and charges were dropped because I didn’t do what was claimed. To speak to your first question, I’m a passionate individual. Most of my Twitter has been about politics, policing and criminal justice. Policing is the ultimate job and responsibility, that’s why I sat on the police commission, to make sure the police were best prepared to do their duties and serve San Francisco. Was I completely successful? I don’t think I was, there’s still a lot of work to do. To see the mayor attack her own appointees for trying to do their jobs on the commission is a real shame.

Mayoral appointees aren’t allowed to do their jobs without being controlled and micro-managed by the mayor’s office. If I’ve spoken passionately about the police, it’s because police have the ability to take lives, liberty and freedoms, but they also have the potential to do a lot of good. I’m passionate about justice. I’m passionate about freedom. I’m passionate about public safety. That’s why I’m involved in policing and the criminal justice system.

SFGATE: To your point on not believing you were completely successful on the police commission, are there specific moments where you think you could have done things differently?

Hamasaki: The police commission is one of the hardest working commissions in San Francisco, we have 15 to 20 hours of work a week in reading, drafting policy and research. San Francisco has some of the best policies in the country, my frustration has always been with the culture that exists within the police union, which overshadows the good work of regular cops out there trying to do a good job.

I don’t think the police union is on board with new policies; they’re used to doing things way they are. That needs to change.

SFGATE: Do you think it’s necessarily a bad thing if a new DA were to have an adversarial relationship with elected officials like the mayor, supervisors or groups like the police union?

Hamasaki: I think I would be a contrast from the mayor and her appointees. Mayor Breed demands absolute loyalty from all of her appointees, which means things don’t get done. We’ve had several officials indicted, imprisoned and removed from office because of corruption. I don’t think someone can argue this administration isn’t corrupt. We need independence, for someone to stand up and put San Francisco first, not the corrupt machine that’s led to the conditions on the street. We have high rates of homelessness, drug use and mental illness without treatment.

All of that falls on the current administration. They need to support more housing, more beds for treatment programs, and to give people on the streets struggling the treatment they need. One-party rule has failed the city in so many ways. Do I plan to have fights as DA? I sure hope not, but I will stand up and put San Francisco first. That’s the way to bring true public safety.

SFGATE: You talk about needing to get more people into treatment. Breed and her allies have voiced support for wanting to make it easier to compel people into mental health or substance abuse programs. Is that something you support?

Hamasaki: I’m not familiar with discussions on that law, but just speaking generally, we already have the mechanisms and apparatus to compel people to treatment. Under 5150 and 5250, when people present a danger, they can be hospitalized, and we can extend the duration of how long they should be held.

I think it should be medical professionals making that decision, not police, prosecutors and people without mental health training. It’s important to have as a tool, but procedures already exist for that. 

Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.