San Francisco cop fired for killing unarmed carjacking suspect

The December killing took place on the fired officer's fourth day on the job.

A protest against police violence in San Francisco. CREDIT: JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
A protest against police violence in San Francisco. CREDIT: JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images

San Francisco Police Department officials quietly fired a rookie cop on Friday, three months after he shot and killed a carjacking suspect from the passenger seat of a police vehicle on his fourth day on the job.

Officer Chris Samayoa killed 42-year-old Keita O’Neil with a single shot on December 1, after O’Neil had allegedly hijacked a state lottery van. Days later, the department released only a snippet of body-worn camera footage from the encounter. It affords only limited insight, showing Samayoa firing before exiting the squad car.

Because Samayoa did not hit the record button his camera until after he fired, there is no audio to go with the approximately 30 seconds of images released. (The devices are designed to capture the 30 seconds of video immediately before an officer hits record, but not the corresponding sound.) But the video shows the shot shattering the police car’s window, indicating that any verbal warning Samayoa may have given would have been inaudible to O’Neil.

The firing, first reported by the neighborhood news site Mission Local, is entirely at Chief Bill Scott’s discretion because Samayoa was still in the standard one-year probationary period for new officers. Though the chief therefore did not need to give a specific reason for dropping Samayoa, the department’s use of force policy mandates that officers “shall not discharge a firearm from his or her moving vehicle.”

Samayoa’s cruiser was coming to a halt when he fired. Though it is difficult to tell from the short video snippet if it was fully stopped or still braking at the key moment, the video shows he drew his weapon while the car was still in full motion. His failure to activate his body camera until after firing also violated “department policy require[ing] officers to turn on the devices during vehicle chases,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in December.

Department officials did not immediately respond to questions about the chief’s reasoning. Neither did police union head Marty Halloran, who has blasted Scott’s decision as contradictory to officers’ training.

“Chris was fired for doing what he was trained to do by the SFPD Academy,” a letter from SF Police Officers Association head Marty Halloran said. The letter questions Scott’s commitment to his officers, alleging he has offered no support either publicly or privately for officers who have been shot at in other incidents in recent months.

“Stay strong, stay safe and do the right thing but the days of the administration or the city saying, ‘we are family and we’ll take care of you’ are long gone,” Halloran wrote to members. “It is evident now more than ever that the administration will throw you under the bus for political expediency and that we are on our own.” Halloran did not immediately return a phone call seeking additional detail.

The letter also hints that Samayoa’s use of force was justified because O’Neil had a criminal record and was running toward the officers’ car after ditching his own vehicle on a dead-end street. O’Neil was unarmed and running past the officers in the opposite direction when he was killed.

The probationary status that allowed Scott to unilaterally dismiss Samayoa without going through the more complicated process that protects veteran officers may also leave Samayoa without the kind of recourse cops around the country frequently use to overturn dismissals. Arbitrators have forced departments to reinstate fired cops hundreds of times in the past decade, a 2017 Washington Post investigation found.