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Cleansing the woke out: New San Francisco DA begins firing inherited “woke” staff

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Megan Cassidy

San Francisco Chronicle

In her first major move as San Francisco’s district attorney, Brooke Jenkins on Friday launched a massive staff overhaul, firing at least 15 employees and announcing the selection of four new lieutenants who will help lead her management and transition teams. The expected shake-up, which may position the office to seek stricter punishments for criminal suspects, comes a week after Jenkins was sworn in as the city’s top prosecutor — the culmination of the historic recall of her progressive former boss, Chesa Boudin, an effort in which she played a major role.

Jenkins’ new top hires — Ana Gonzalez, Nancy Tung, Tiffany Sutton and Rani Singh — have spent several years as prosecutors in the Bay Area, and some have sparred publicly with Boudin in the past. Gonzalez is a former San Francisco assistant district attorney who Boudin fired in his own purge after he took office in January 2020.

Friday’s hirings and firings became the latest chapter in the often hostile debate over the direction of criminal justice in San Francisco. Boudin’s allies attacked the moves, while Jenkins — the choice of moderate Mayor London Breed — suggested she was moving strongly in response to the wishes of recall voters.

“I promised the public that I would restore accountability and consequences to the criminal justice system while advancing smart reforms responsibly,” Jenkins said in a statement.

“Today, I made difficult, but important changes to my management team and staff that will help advance my vision to restore a sense of safety in San Francisco by holding serious and repeat offenders accountable and implementing smart criminal justice reforms.”

Employees fired Friday included high-ranking advisers to Boudin as well as prosecutors, investigators and other staff members whose work included city corruption probes, the prosecution of police, the resentencing of people found to be innocent or given excessively long sentences and data transparency.

The District Attorney’s Office had a staff of 320 people, 136 of whom were attorneys, officials with the agency said Friday. Twelve of the 16 people fired Friday were attorneys.

Rachel Marshall, Boudin’s director of communications and a policy adviser, was among the first to be fired. A Stanford Law School graduate who worked for nearly a decade as a public defender, she said she joined Boudin’s team to fight for criminal justice reform, and that “DA Jenkins’ approach differs dramatically from my values.”

“That battle has never felt more urgent,” Marshall said in a statement. “My passion for the mission to reform our legal system is stronger than ever and I am eager for the next opportunity to effect change.”

Arcelia Hurtado, a chief attorney who oversaw the office’s post-conviction unit along with diversity efforts and training, said she was disappointed but not surprised to be terminated. Hurtado said Jenkins told staffers she wouldn’t fire prosecutors solely because they were hired by Boudin, and that she would be meeting with managers individually to assess whether they were a good fit for her team. Those meetings, Hurtado said, never took place.

“I was hopeful that she would be true to her word … and this seems to be a complete political massacre at this point,” Hurtado said. “She lined us up, essentially, one by one today, 15-minute phone calls, and fired us all without cause, and would not state any reason for why we were fired.”

Marshall Khine, chief assistant district attorney, and Kasie Lee, chief of the victim services division, were both demoted.

Jenkins said her newly hired management team “will include the addition of three women of color, with decades of prosecutorial experience at the highest levels (who) will help our office deliver on that promise. I have full faith and confidence that these women will promote and protect public safety while delivering justice in all of its various forms.”

The second-in-command position in the D.A.’s Office will go to Gonzalez, who led the office’s gang unit until she — along with six others — were fired by Boudin after he took office. Gonzalez will serve as Jenkins’ chief assistant, meaning that she will be the office’s lead managing attorney.

Tung, an Alameda County assistant district attorney, will be the chief of special prosecutions, taking on and overseeing sensitive cases. She will also serve as the lead liaison for the the office’s community partnerships across San Francisco.

Like Jenkins and Gonzalez, Tung has a history of conflict with Boudin. She ran against him in 2019, coming in third in the city’s ranked-choice contest. She was seen then as the candidate most in favor of stricter penalties for people accused of crimes.

Tung also publicly supported Boudin’s recall, and was rumored to be Breed’s second-choice pick for district attorney. This year, prior to Boudin’s recall, Tung told the San Francisco NAACP that she would seek the office again if Boudin was ousted.

Sutton, the director of the crime strategies division at the San Francisco Police Department, will now lead the D.A.’s juvenile division and alternative programs and initiatives, which focuses on collaborative courts and reforms. Sutton is also a veteran of the District Attorney’s Office, having spent 12 years there as an assistant district attorney after being hired by Kamala Harris.

Leading the office’s transition team will be Singh, who spent 22 years as a city district attorney before becoming assistant chief legal counsel for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office earlier this year, according to her LinkedIn bio. While at the District Attorney’s Office, Singh served as a managing attorney for the misdemeanor trial unit, the collaborative court and mental health unit and the domestic violence unit.

Gonzalez, Tung and Sutton are all expected to take on cases in addition to their managerial roles.

By stocking the office with law enforcement officials and more traditional prosecutors potentially amenable to stricter penalties for people accused of crimes, Jenkins’ choices represent a marked departure from Boudin’s progressive philosophies.

During his two and a half years in office, Boudin hired a slate of former defense attorneys and prioritized diverting offenders to rehabilitation, thinning jails and prisons and holding police officers accountable for misconduct. Recall supporters said San Francisco had become too permissive in dealing with suspected robbers, burglars and drug dealers.

By Friday afternoon, The Chronicle confirmed many other firings, including Kate Chatfield, Boudin’s chief of staff; Kelsey Russom, Boudin’s executive assistant; Ryan Khojasteh, a felony prosecutor in the general felonies unit, who also helped implement reforms in the juvenile unit; and Dana Drusinsky, an assistant district attorney who worked in the post-conviction unit, focused on re-sentencing rehabilitated people and those who were given excessive terms in prison.

Drusinsky said she had court hearings scheduled Friday and next week in which victims were scheduled to appear via Zoom or to fly into San Francisco from other countries, and that their case statuses were left unclear. “Everyone who knows anything about these cases has been fired,” she said.

An official with the D.A.’s Office said Jenkins put a chief on the case Friday, and that prosecutors communicated with the victims services advocate to pass along information about the change of attorney to the victim’s family.

The official added that the defense filed a continuance for the hearing Friday, and that Jenkins has reinstalled on the case an attorney who had previously worked on it.

Mikaela Rabinowitz — director of data, research, and analytics, who created the office’s first public-facing data tool that allowed the general public to view case resolutions — was also fired. “I’ve done nothing to undermine the new administration,” Rabinowitz told The Chronicle. “Given the quality of my work … I can only speculate that (the new administration) doesn’t share my commitment to transparency.”

Others fired included Tal Klement, assistant chief of general crimes, who oversaw the felony and misdemeanor units; Dylan Yep, the office’s most senior data analyst; and Rebecca Young, an assistant district attorney with the Independent Investigations Bureau, who prosecuted cases of police accused of misconduct. Young said her colleague Lateef Gray was also terminated.

Judging from the people Jenkins let go, “it certainly seems like a pivot away from reform and progressive prosecution and a return to the failed practice of mass incarceration,” Klement said. “I don’t see how she can call herself a progressive prosecutor after gutting the office like this.”

Young, who is running to be San Francisco’s public defender, said that “firing two of the three attorneys who do police accountability work … belies her public promise to maintain police accountability.”

It was not immediately clear how the office’s specific units might be affected by the firings.

Jenkins has not officially rolled back any of Boudin’s policies, which have sharply limited or done away with cash bail, the use of gang enhancements, the charging of juveniles as adults and the use of California’s “three strikes” law for repeat offenders. She has, however, criticized these policies as too lenient, and last week announced she may be withdrawing some plea deal offers in pending drug cases made under Boudin’s administration.

Clarification: In an earlier version of this article, The Chronicle misattributed a statement about Nancy Tung’s role.

Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: megan.cassidy@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meganrcassidy

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