The Mercury News
SAN JOSE — Police are citing newly released body-camera footage of an officer-involved shooting at a gas station here last month to pile on criticism of the new San Francisco District Attorney’s decision not to file charges in a similar police shooting there.
“They’re eerily similar cases with two incredibly different outcomes for two cities that are 40 miles apart,” said SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia. “Law enforcement in that proximity shouldn’t be held under two completely different standards.”
The Jan. 4 shooting at an Arco station in East San Jose involved 32-year-old Jose Antonio Delossantos, who was shot and wounded after he allegedly tried to ignite a gas pump and then charged at two San Jose police officers with a metal rod. Delossantos, who is expected to survive his injuries, has been charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and attempted arson.
In San Francisco, newly-elected district attorney Chesa Boudin has not filed charges against a suspect in a similar case a few weeks earlier. In that incident, 24-year-old Jamaica Hampton was shot three times on Dec. 7 by two SFPD officers who were trying to contact him in connection with a Mission District burglary. During the confrontation, police say Hampton hit an officer in the head with a bottle, and was shot as he charged at an officer while holding the bottle, then again as he tried to get up.
In holding off on potential charges against Hampton, Boudin cited that the officers’ use of force was still being investigated for any potential criminal liability. The move was a departure from the way that such cases are typically handled, with the criminal liability of police officers after a critical use-of-force incident decided long after a decision is made on whether the suspect will face charges.
Boudin’s office emphasized that the office has not ruled out filing charges against Hampton in the future.
“The withdrawal of charges against Jamaica Hampton is neither a dismissal nor a decision not to prosecute. We are committed to holding anyone who harms police officers accountable,” DA spokesperson Paula Lehman-Ewing said in a statement to this news organization. “We are pausing the prosecution in this case so that we can conduct a thorough investigation of all potential criminal charges stemming from the Dec. 7 incident. In the meantime, Mr. Hampton, who is still in the hospital recovering from injuries he sustained during the confrontation — including the loss of a leg — poses no safety risk.”
Garcia, the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, and an array of other law-enforcement groups have said the absence of criminal charges in the San Francisco case has had far-reaching impacts on officer morale.
“For all of those who have sweat and bled to protect that community, this is a travesty,” Garcia said. “It’s been refreshing to see political leaders in support of that police department. It’s a lonely job at times and I don’t think people realize how far that support goes.”
Police in San Jose have pointed to the footage of last month’s officer-involved shooting to highlight the similarities with the San Francisco case. In the video, officers Isaac Cazarez and Michael Santana encounter Delossantos holding in one hand a gas pump nozzle, with paper stuffed into the end, and a lit lighter in the other. After Cazarez activated the emergency shutoff for the pumps, both officers fired beanbag rounds at the suspect, but neither those nor Santana’s Taser stopped the man.
Delossantos can be seen charging the officers then running onto Quimby Road before running back at them, swinging a metal rod, and knocking the body camera that had been mounted on Santana’s chest. Throughout the video, the suspect can be heard laughing.
Garcia said Delossantos, a registered gang member who was previously convicted in a stabbing, had no documented history of mental-health problems.
As Santana continues to back away, he falls to the ground, prompting Cazarez to fire a shot from his service pistol, hitting the suspect. That’s followed by two alternating shots between Santana and Cazarez, the last of which causes Delossantos to fall to the ground.
Delossantos was charged on Jan. 8, four days after he was shot. Garcia said he sees no reason why a suspect accused of attacking officers can’t be prosecuted while a police shooting is investigated.
“The shooting was in December,” Garcia said. “I would not have confidence in a DA who couldn’t do both concurrently.”
In an interview with this news organization, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen refrained from commenting on the Hampton case, but said that given the information available, he was comfortable proceeding with charges against Delossantos even as the shooting investigation is still pending.
Rosen noted that prosecutors and DA investigators were on site after the shooting as part of a routine joint investigation with SJPD homicide detectives, and believed public safety was served by the charges and by keeping Delossantos in custody.
“We had a good idea that night of the officers’ actions, and the suspect’s actions,” Rosen said. “I was confident filing these charges even as we investigate the officers’ actions. I don’t believe that in any way influences the investigation of the officers.”
Still, Rosen said he could imagine a scenario where prosecutors might exercise more patience in filing against a defendant in an officer-involved shooting.
“It’s possible in another situation that we would not file charges until the investigation is completed,” he said. “But that was not the case in the gas station shooting.”
In San Francisco, Boudin’s office has previously rejected the police union’s assertion that the decision not to press charges against Hampton amounts to a “green light” for people to attack officers. The case is “unique,” the office said, “because there are multiple victims who are seeking, and who deserve, justice.”
“It would be unfair to ask the officers to testify as witnesses in a criminal prosecution while they are still under investigation for their use of force in the same incident,” the office wrote in a statement. “The health of any criminal case depends on internal clarity around the charges being filed, which becomes more complicated when you are dealing with an instance where there is potentially competing criminal liability.”
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