San Francisco DA candidates face off at forum

Four candidates for San Francisco's district attorney faced hundreds of people at a debate Tuesday sponsored by the League of Women Voters and University of San Francisco.

Former California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, who retired in 2020 moderated the forum, posing questions that had been submitted in writing before the event.

Interim district attorney Brooke Jenkins, who was appointed after leading the effort to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, pointed to her eight years with the prosecutor's office and said she's running to bring accountability to criminals and advocates for pretrial detention and stiffer penalties for dealers.

"The DA's office effectively decriminalized drugs in the past couple of years and I took a tougher approach. We need a tougher approach," said Jenkins, "Drug dealers...should they be connected with selling fentanyl to someone who overdoses, they should be charged with murder because we have to hold people accountable."

Joe Alioto Veronese, a civil rights attorney with law enforcement experience, criticized Jenkins, saying she is focusing too much on politics and not enough on action.

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"The day I get sworn in, the investigators that are driving this DA around, they will go back to work. They'll go back on the street and they'll make fentanyl arrests on that day," said Alioto Veronese.

Attorney John Hamasaki, a former San Francisco police commissioner and past president of the Asian American Bar Association, noted that he received the endorsement of the San Francisco Democratic Party. He says the justice system needs reform, not just arrests.

"We've tried that. All it does is bring out more dealers and more dealers fighting for turf," said Hamasaki, "We have to address the demand side of it. The demand side of it means getting treatment for users, helping them in building out programs."

Maurice Chenier, a San Francisco native and attorney, says he will take a hard line.

"One of the things I'll do is block access. I'll put both users and dealers in jail. If you don't shape up you have to ship out," said Chenier, who says he grew up as a child passing drug dealers on his way to school in San Francisco

The candidates agreed on support for city programs that help police provide services on calls to homeless people and an Innocence Commission to review cases.

There were slight differences on whether to treat 16 and 17-year-olds as adults.

"For 16- and 17-year-olds who commit very egregious or heinous crimes," said Jenkins, "We will consider the need to petition to have them transferred to adult court."

"We have to treat every circumstance, it's different. Of course, that's true in every criminal matter. But it's especially true when we're dealing with our children," said Hamasaki.

There was also conflict over how to deal with hate crimes.

"It stops by sending a message. This current DA hasn't charged a hate crime yet. What message does that send?" said Alioto Veronese.

"I spent 2.5 years as the designated hate crimes prosecutor in this city and I tell you it's one of the hardest things to prove because it's one of the only crimes that requires proof of motive," said Jenkins.

"We for too long have treated victims as just another witness and this is what we're going to use to score a conviction and get a notch on the wall. These are real communities that are hurt and this is my community that is hurt," said Hamasaki, advocating for more action to support victims.

"You should not be shot if you're white, yellow or brown. Under my administration crime is crime," said Chenier.

The election is November 8th and will be ranked-choice voting, allowing people to vote for multiple candidates in order of preference.