Discover more from Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds
Emma, Ronisha, and Latanette
Three young Black mothers murdered and still no justice
On the weekends, I will post some of my past articles, updated to reflect the current status of the cases.
When I wrote about the murders of Emma, Ronisha, and Latanette last March, none of the killers had been held accountable. They still haven’t. I heard from Emma Hunt’s stepfather, David DeYoe, that his daughter’s adult killer Kevin Lopez-Figueroa is still free. The other suspect was a juvenile and was never charged with a crime. The DA’s office also declined to charge Figueroa with murder, instead levying a single firearms charge. He didn’t show up for his hearing on that firearms charge, and FTA (failure to appear) told DeYoe they are now “handling it,” although they won’t tell him anything about the case. Meanwhile, Figueroa has been spotted by Tenderloin residents still selling drugs near the area where he shot and killed Emma Hunt. The suspects in the deaths of Ronisha and Latanette are still in custody (one on an unrelated murder charge) though no trial dates have been set.
“Basically, they’re saying my daughter was nothing, she wasn’t worth anything anyway. And that’s just not true and I get so angry about that.”
— Sherree DeYoe, mother of murder victim Emma Hunt
After her mother’s death from starvation, 6-year-old Emma Hunt cared for herself and her baby sister in the harsh streets of Ethiopia for a year. That’s when Sherree DeYoe adopted the two and brought them to Manteca in San Joaquin County.
In 2020 at age 32, Hunt was the mother of two children living in San Francisco. After battling years of drug addiction, she told her family she had been clean for months and planned to enter a residential treatment program on Monday, Jan. 6. But even after surviving Ethiopia and an addiction to drugs, Hunt could not survive the violent streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. Around 4 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5, after an altercation near Larkin and O’Farrell Streets, a man pulled out a gun and shot her once in the neck and three times in the chest.
One week later, officers from the San Francisco Police Department’s narcotics squad arrested 18-year-old Kevin Lopez-Figueroa and a 17-year-old juvenile, booking them both on suspicion of murder and conspiracy. Though the incident was captured on videotape, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin declined to file murder charges against the two suspects, deciding instead on firearms charges. “The people have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant did not act in lawful self-defense,” said then-spokesman for the district attorney’s office Alex Bastian.
BRINGING A MILK CRATE TO A GUNFIGHT
Investigators allowed Hunt’s family to view the surveillance tape. They were outraged by what they described as the careless steps made by Boudin. “Emma didn’t go after them with a knife. She hit him with the milk crate,” her adopted mother, Sherree DeYoe, told FOX40 News. “When you’re looking at the full circumstances, there’s intent there. They had strong intent to come down and do some sort of harm,” said Hunt’s stepfather, David DeYoe. According to the DeYoes, Figueroa and the juvenile suspect harassed Hunt for 30 to 40 minutes trying to get money from her, then left the scene and returned with a gun.
Police sources tell me that officers made an undercover drug buy from the juvenile suspect back in the Tenderloin just a week after Hunt’s murder. When I asked about Figueroa, the Sheriff’s Office responded that he was “not in San Francisco jail custody.”
THREE DEATHS IN 30 DAYS
Hunt was one of three Black women in their 30s killed during a 30-day period in San Francisco. Latanette McDaniel, 35, was stabbed to death in Potrero Hill on Dec. 14, 2019, and Ronisha Cook, 33, was gunned down in the Tenderloin on Dec. 19, 2019. Between the three women, a total of 11 children were left motherless.
Supervisor Matt Haney, whose district includes the Tenderloin, spoke at a Jan. 2020 press conference held near a makeshift memorial for Hunt. “What is most important is that we listen to the leaders within our community, listen to Black women in our community, leaders who tell us what we should do to prevent this in the future,” Haney said. Shamann Walton, now president of the Board of Supervisors, also attended, stating, “We want everyone to know that we take every violent crime seriously, making sure that the resources to address violence go to the areas and the neighborhoods, communities where we see it.” But over a year later, their words ring hollow as Hunt’s killers are free, while one of Cook’s killers wasn’t even charged — and went on to kill again.
This past Jan. 28 around 5 p.m., legendary private detective Jack Palladino, 76, whose clients over the decades included Hollywood stars and the Black Panthers, stepped out of his Haight Ashbury home on Page Street to take pictures in the neighborhood. A car pulled up and a man jumped out, attempting to steal Palladino’s high-priced camera. Palladino held on and hit his head on the pavement as the car dragged him. Witnesses ran to his aid, but several days later Palladino died in the hospital from his injuries. In what sounds like a movie plot, the private eye helped solve his own case when pictures taken on his camera revealed the suspects, leading to the arrests of 24-year-old Lawrence Thomas of Pittsburg and 23-year-old Tyjone Flournoy of San Francisco. The name Flournoy sounded familiar, so I looked him up in an arrest database and discovered why: Flournoy was one of four men arrested for the 2019 murder of Ronisha Cook.
Just before noon on Dec. 19, officers from Tenderloin Station on patrol in the area of Eddy and Leavenworth streets heard gunfire. At the crime scene, witnesses described a vehicle that fled the scene. Officers located a car matching the description with damage from gunfire in the area of Eighth and Folsom streets. They also found Cook suffering from gunshot wounds and rendered aid, but she succumbed to her injuries at the hospital. Homicide Detail identified four suspects — 28-year-old Derick Session, 39-year-old Gary Owens, 31-year-old Robert Huntley, and 23-year-old Tyjone Flournoy.
The district attorney’s office charged only two of the men — Owens and Huntley — with Cook’s murder. Both men remain behind bars (their next court date is October 1, 2021). Session and Flournoy were released. After the attack on Palladino made the news, Boudin told the San Francisco Chronicle he “filed murder charges against the people we believe we can prove were the actual shooter and the driver of the car. At the time of the arrests, we asked police to keep investigating the two passengers in the car, including Mr. Flournoy.” But California Penal Code 182 PC states “If two or more people conspire to commit any crime, they shall be punishable in the same manner and to the same extent as is provided for the punishment of the felony.”
In other words, there were ways of keeping Flournoy and Session in jail while Boudin waited for more evidence. Instead, he set them free — and Flournoy is now facing charges in the murder of Palladino.
IS RACIAL JUSTICE ONLY FOR CRIMINALS?
Latanette McDaniel’s killer also remains behind bars (The next hearing is October 13, 2021). On Dec. 14, 2019, shortly before midnight, McDaniel was stabbed in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. As she lay dying, she told investigators that a woman named Vernisha Mandigo killed her. The incident, along with McDaniel’s final words identifying Mandigo, were purportedly captured by police body cameras. Mandigo, 25 at the time, confessed to the killing. Since 2013, Mandigo has been arrested nearly 20 times in multiple jurisdictions for crimes including prostitution, receiving stolen property and car theft. While none of her previous crimes were violent, the sheer volume of arrests was at the very least a cry for help. Yet Mandigo was released again and again.
In multiple interviews, Chesa Boudin has said that his goal as San Francisco’s district attorney is to enforce the law equally, fight for racial justice and equity, and focus resources on root causes of crime to break the revolving door of America’s failed justice system. Those are laudable (if lofty) goals that he should pursue someday, perhaps as a legislator, but policy-making is not the job of a district attorney. Boudin’s goal right now should be directing his team at the DA’s office to try cases, win convictions, and bring justice for victims and their families. For the families of Emma Hunt, Ronisha Cook, and Latanette McDaniel, there has been no justice. Hunt’s killers remain free, and one of Cook’s suspected killers was free to kill again. McDaniel died in the arms of investigators, her murder committed by another young woman who showed signs of needing help for nearly a decade.
In a May 2020 opinion piece written for the Los Angeles Times, Boudin said making decisions “about who to incarcerate and for how long and who to release on what conditions” is agonizing. “For decades, criminal justice policy has been driven by the sometimes realistic fear that any person released could commit a heinous crime,” he said. “Locking up millions of people destroys families and communities.” I agree with Boudin, but I also believe allowing dangerous people back out on the streets, where their victims are disproportionately people of color in poor neighborhoods, destroys families and communities, too.