SF Chronicle: S.F. D.A. Brooke Jenkins fired him. Now he’s running against her


This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle

By David Hernandez

Ryan Khojasteh, an Alameda County prosecutor, announced Friday that he will run for San Francisco district attorney in the November election, kicking off a campaign to unseat incumbent Brooke Jenkins, who fired Khojasteh amid a wider staff purge when she took office in 2022.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Khojasteh, 30, said he would present himself to voters as a fair prosecutor intent on remedying what’s broken in the criminal justice system. Khojasteh said he filed paperwork to officially declare himself a candidate on Friday.

“I’m running as a responsible voice,” he said, “because I think there’s a better way to achieve public safety.”

Khojasteh’s entry into the otherwise uncontested district attorney’s race could become a new front in the debate over criminal justice in San Francisco. Jenkins was a leader in the recall of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Khojasteh’s onetime boss.

The campaign to oust Boudin, a standard-bearer of the progressive prosecutor movement, was widely seen as a referendum on an approach to prosecution that seeks to reduce incarceration in favor of rehabilitation. After his firing, Khojasteh went to work for Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price, a progressive now herself being targeted for recall.

Khojasteh said he believes in incarceration in some cases, but views alternatives such as treatment as paramount in preventing crime and recidivism.

Jenkins confirmed to the Chronicle through a spokesperson that she intends to seek re-election. She did not comment on Khojasteh’s campaign.

“The role of the district attorney is to create a fair system of justice that appropriately holds criminal offenders accountable and delivers justice for victims,” a spokesperson for her re-election campaign said in a statement. “In her first year, DA Jenkins has worked hard to reverse the damage caused to San Francisco by her predecessor and put prosecutors back to work fighting crime.

“The DA looks forward to putting her record up against any candidate who wants to revert back to the failed policies that clearly were not working for this city,” the spokesperson said.

Khojasteh was hired as a San Francisco prosecutor during Boudin’s administration. After Boudin was recalled and Mayor London Breed appointed Jenkins to replace him in 2022, Jenkins fired Khojasteh and 14 other attorneys and staffers.

Khojasteh believes an article he penned earlier, published by SFGATE, played a role in his firing. (The Chronicle and SFGATE are both owned by Hearst but have separate newsrooms.) In the letter, addressed to Mayor Breed and published just before she appointed Jenkins, Khojasteh made a case for continued support for juvenile justice initiatives the district attorney’s office undertook under Boudin.

Jenkins would go on to win a special election to finish Boudin’s unexpired term.

In law school — Khojasteh attended UC Law San Francisco, formerly known as UC Hastings — he ran against Nancy Pelosi in the state’s 12th Congressional District, but did not advance to the general election after garnering 4.6% of the vote. Khojasteh then called for legislative reforms to create a “justice system that is rehabilitative, not putative,” according to his campaign website. His campaign called for decriminalization of “simple” drug possession cases.

After Boudin hired him, Khojasteh was assigned to a unit prosecuting crimes committed by juveniles, where the focus was rehabilitation over punishment. Khojasteh later moved to prosecuting adults for crimes including attempted murder, arson, residential burglaries and drug cases.

If elected, Khojasteh said he’d build strong partnerships — with schools, for example — to break the school-to-prison pipeline, advocate for treatment over jail “when appropriate” in drug dealing cases, and turn to grand juries to consider criminal charges in controversial cases.

Confronting the city’s drug epidemic, Khojasteh said, should be treated as a “public health crisis” and disagreed with efforts to incarcerate drug users. “The answer for drug users cannot just be the criminal justice system,” he said.

Jenkins has said she believes efforts to arrest drug users are important as a way to make users understand their behavior is unacceptable. She has also said public health leaders should “get creative about what more can be done outside of the criminal justice system.”

Khojasteh criticized Jenkins for not filing criminal charges in certain cases or not taking them before a grand jury, such as the fatal shooting of Banko Brown. A security guard shot the 24-year-old man at the exit of a Walgreens store in April. Khojasteh faulted Jenkins for describing the security guard’s actions as self-defense even though the investigation was ongoing.

Attorney General Rob Bonta said in May that he would review Jenkins’ decision not to charge the security guard. The attorney general’s office said this week that the review was ongoing.

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