San Francisco DA Makes Victims of Police Violence Eligible for Compensation

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. (chesaboudin.com via Flickr)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — San Francisco will start offering compensation to victims of police violence, regardless of whether officers involved are prosecuted for assault or found to have used excessive force, the city’s District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced Tuesday.

The new policy will make victims and victims’ families impacted by police shootings and assaults qualify for payments for medical expenses, mental health support and funeral costs.

“People should not have to rely on a GoFundMe page to pay for funeral services for people killed by law enforcement,” Boudin said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

Boudin says the policy aims to fill a void that exists in California’s victims’ compensation laws, which exclude victims of police assaults and shootings when officers write police reports that suggest the victim contributed to his or her own injury or death.

“People are left to fend for themselves because law enforcement rarely if ever writes a police report that lists the decedent or person who was injured as a victim,” said Boudin, a former public defender who was elected in November.

The president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association dismissed the announcement as a political stunt and questioned Boudin’s commitment to all victims of crime.

“All crime victims should receive the support of the former public defender, unfortunately, Chesa Boudin hasn’t been an advocate for all victims,” SFPOA President Tony Montoya said in an email. “He hasn’t looked to expand services or be the voice for rape victims, for assault victims, or robbery victims in our city. In fact, he’s done the opposite. Once again, he’s thinking of his political career and cynically exploiting the horrific death of George Floyd versus carrying out his duties to prosecute criminals and seek justice for victims.”

Despite that criticism, at least one crime victims’ advocate applauded Boudin’s decision.

Tinisch Hollins, California director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, said her organization has been actively pushing to expand services to victims of police violence. She noted that black, brown and disenfranchised victims are least likely to be made aware of compensation or approved to receive compensation for crimes committed against them.

“The healing of our communities requires ensuring all survivors of violence have immediate access to the care and support they need to address their trauma, regardless of who exacted that harm,” Hollins said.

Gena Castro Rodriguez, chief of the District Attorney’s Office’s Victims Services Unit, described the policy as a crucial step in helping victims rebuild their lives after violent confrontations with police that often tend to impact low-income and working class people of color.

“A $1,000 ambulance bill can be the difference between being able to recover or not being able to recover,” Castro Rodriguez said.

Dr. Sarah Metz, director of Trauma Recovery Services at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, said her division is pleased to partner with the district attorney’s office in offering mental health services to victims of police violence.

“We are so grateful to be able to remove those barriers to expand access to our care,” Metz said.

The program will make victims and their families eligible for up to $7,500 in funeral costs, $5,000 for medical bills, $2,500 for relocation costs, $1,000 for mental health treatment and $1,000 for crime scene cleanup if property is damaged during an incident.

Boudin said the new policy will not apply retroactively, but his office will try to make compensation available for incidents that occurred within the last several weeks or months. Funeral costs are often the biggest cost for families, he said.

Boudin’s office will determine eligibility and may require documentation of harm, such as medical bills, according to a DA’s Office spokesperson.

“We will look at each situation on its own facts and do our best to provide support where the California Victims’ Compensation Board is unwilling to do so,” Boudin said.

The District Attorney’s Office did not specify how much money will be made available for this purpose.

Boudin noted that this initiative will not affect his office’s determination to bring charges against people who legitimately resist arrest or obstruct police when the officers involved behave appropriately.

“This new policy does not limit the prosecution of legitimate cases of resisting arrest or assaulting officers,” Boudin said. “We will continue to prosecute legitimate cases in those categories.”

The announcement comes on the heels of other major changes at the District Attorney’s Office in the wake of nationwide protests over excessive force and racial bias.

Last week, Boudin appointed civil rights lawyer Lateef Gray as managing attorney in charge of the DA Office’s Independent Investigations Bureau, which reviews police shootings and assaults to determine if criminal charges should be filed against officers.

Boudin also unveiled a new policy that will require more comprehensive reviews of evidence before charging people for resisting arrest, obstructing police or assaulting officers.

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