The policy change by District Attorney Chesa Boudin comes as the U.S. reels from the deaths of George Floyd and other minorities, mostly African American and Latino people, at the hands of police. In the San Francisco Bay Area, protesters are marching against the recent fatal police shootings of two young men.
Boudin’s office and supporters say the policy may be the first in the country. Boudin, a former deputy public defender who won office last year as part of a national wave of progressive-minded prosecutors, said it is essential that victims of police violence receive the help that any other crime victim would receive.
“The bottom line is that people should not have to rely on a GoFundMe page to pay for a funeral of their son or daughter when they’ve been killed by law enforcement,” he said. The policy change aims to backfill state compensation laws that exclude victims who lack law enforcement corroboration for the crimes they were subjected to or who were perceived to have contributed to the violence, his office said. Boudin's office will allow corroboration through medical records and other documents.
“Folks from black, brown and disenfranchised communities are not often acknowledged as victims. They're often seen as complicit in their own victimization, stripped of their identity altogether," said Tinisch Hollins, California director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, who joined Boudin at a press conference.
She said she has heard from the family of 22-year-old Sean Monterrosa, who was killed by police in the Bay Area city of Vallejo last week when they responded to reports of a break-in at a drug store. An officer fired five times through the window of his patrol car, hitting a kneeling Monterrosa, who had no firearm, only a hammer.
The president of the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association said all crime victims should receive support but called the move a political ploy by Boudin, whom the union considers too lenient. “He hasn’t looked to expand services or seek justice for rape victims, for assault victims, or robbery victims in our city," Tony Montoya said in a statement. “He’s done the opposite by refusing to hold criminals accountable.”
Monterrosa's family, who live in San Francisco, will now be eligible for up to $7,500 for funeral services and up to $5,000 in medical bills, as well as financial help with counseling and relocation costs, said Gena Castro Rodriguez, chief of the district attorney's Victims Service Division.
Lucy Lang, director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the dollar amounts may not do “any real massive system repair," but it sends a message that society needs to rethink how it sees victims of police violence.
“Any policy that recognizes the incredible trauma of surviving a violent crime is a step in the right direction,” she said. “And that is all the more true for people who lose loved ones to police violence.”
Boudin said his office will keep prosecuting cases of obstruction against police who are acting lawfully, but the new policy expands resources for victims, their families and witnesses to police violence.
The district attorney's office would have jurisdiction in cases where the violence occurred in San Francisco or to a San Francisco resident.