Discover more from Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds
Family of Ed French worries Chesa Boudin will accept plea deals for his killers
And legislation written by Boudin's chief of staff may help free one of the accused
When Ed French was 11 years old, his sister Lorrie found him staring at a map of San Francisco. She asked what street he was looking for and he said, “I’m not. I’m memorizing the map.” French grew up in the Mission District where things weren’t always easy. After their older sister got married at 18, Lorrie, the second of five kids, raised her younger siblings. Despite facing adversity, all five children found success. Lorrie became a realtor in the city where she grew up. She and Ed remained close. “My brother was such a sweetheart. He’d see a little old lady with groceries and he’d stop and give her a ride,” Lorrie says. “I called him Mr. San Francisco — he knew everything about the city and the architecture. He did car commercials, scouting locations and sometimes even directed them, and he did a lot for the film industry coming up from L.A. The head of the San Francisco Film Commission said, ‘Ed taught me the business.’ Everyone loved him.”
It was his passion for San Francisco’s iconic locales that brought the 71-year-old to Twin Peaks in the early morning hours of July 16, 2017. While photographing the sunrise, French was approached by a young man and a young woman and robbed of his camera at gunpoint.
In video later obtained by the San Francisco Police Department, the woman is seen shooting French even though the man, who is holding French, had already stolen the camera. Afterward the two flee, but the man returns to grab the camera bag and is seen kicking French as he lies dying on the ground.
A passing jogger called 911 and administered CPR to French until SFPD arrived on the scene. He was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
On July 28 at approximately 10:19 a.m., an armed robbery took place at St. Mary’s Cathedral Square at Geary Boulevard and Gough Street where a 53-year-old male and a 33-year-old female victim were robbed of their camera and wallet at gunpoint. Investigators from SFPD’s Northern Station Investigation Team were able to identify the suspects and, with additional information developed with investigators from the SFPD Homicide Detail, it was discovered they were also the suspects in the Ed French murder.
On August 3, Fantasy Decuir, 20, of San Francisco was charged with robbery and conspiracy. Lamonte Mims, 19, of Patterson, was charged with robbery, conspiracy, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle, and committing an offense while out on bail or while released on his own recognizance from a prior offense. After the video of the crime surfaced, Decuir was charged with homicide, robbery, and use of a firearm in commission of a crime. Mims was booked for homicide, robbery, being a principal of a crime, and using a firearm in the commission of a felony.
SUSPECT RELEASED DAYS BEFORE MURDER ‘BY MISTAKE’
Court records reveal that Mims was arrested while sitting in a vehicle in San Francisco’s Bayview District around 2:30 a.m. on July 4, 2017, for possessing a 9 mm Ruger and a .38 special handgun. On July 7, he was formally charged, and on July 11 — just five days before the murder of Ed French — he appeared in a San Francisco courtroom before Judge Sharon Reardon, where the controversial Pretrial Diversion Project Public Safety Assessment Tool (PSA) gave Mims a faulty risk score that understated the danger he posed to the public. The system, created by the foundation of billionaire and former Enron energy trader John Arnold to calculate whether a suspect is a flight risk or likely to return to court, was given to San Francisco for free, but with conditions that prohibit the disclosure of “any information about the use of the Tool, including any information about the development, operation and presentation of the Tool.”
Mims was already on felony probation after an arrest last November for breaking into cars at Twin Peaks. He did three months in jail and was given a stay-away order for the popular tourist destination. But he also did jail time in San Mateo, and because the the dozens of other counties using the “free” tool didn’t have the ability to talk to each other, it wasn’t figured into the score.
“The judge actually said, ‘Yes he is dangerous. He was in a car in San Francisco, where he doesn’t live, at 2 in the morning with guns,’” says Brian Higginbotham, who had known Ed for three decades and was his partner for more than 10 years. Even though Reardon wasn’t bound by the PSA score, she released Mims with "assertive case management," a pretrial program that requires check-ins.
"He violated two probations. He was a convicted felon, and he had a gun charge just five days before Ed’s murder,” Higginbotham says. “Something like 58 counties using this system weren’t sharing information. I talked to [then-District Attorney] George Gascon about it and he said he was ‘working on that’ but he never got back to me.”
While Gascon said he didn’t agree with the release if Mims, his office also didn’t argue for or against it. Gascon did make it clear to French’s family that the murder was a special circumstances case — homicide committed during a robbery — which carries a sentence of life in prison without parole. Bail was set at $5 million each for Decuir and Mims. Then-assistant district attorney and head of homicide Michael Swart said that was an insult, asking for each suspect to be held on $10 million bail. Lorrie says she was very pleased with Swart’s work on the case, but when Gascon left to run for Los Angeles District Attorney and Chesa Boudin took over, he fired Swart, along with half a dozen other experienced prosecutors. “I told Boudin that I was not happy he fired Mr. Swart,” Lorrie says. “Swart was ready to go to trial. Once Boudin fired him, everything came to a standstill. The DA’s office is just an extension of the public defender. If you don’t go along with Chesa you will get fired, so everyone is scared.”
Five years later, the suspects remain behind bars but the case still hasn’t moved forward. “We’ve been to something like 49 arraignments,” Brian says. “They keep firing their attorneys and it keeps dragging on — it’s like they’re the king and queen and we are all just pawns,” Lorrie adds. “Both had lengthy rap sheets even as teens; a mistake was made with the algorithm, but the judge obviously didn’t even look at the file to see Mims had done jail time before. Even in the second robbery after Ed’s murder, Mims said he held the gun because ‘he didn’t want Fantasy to kill someone else,’ but he was assaulting Ed when Fantasy shot him and kicked him while he was dying.”
And now, Mims is asking to have his murder case thrown out because of a bill written by Boudin’s current chief of staff, Kate Chatfield.
CONFLICT OF KATE: BILL COULD SET ACCUSED MURDERER FREE
In 2018, then-governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1437 into California law, narrowing the felony murder rule to those who “commit murder, intend it, or act with reckless indifference to human life.” Under the old rule, people could be charged with murder for a death that occurred during commission of a felony in which they participated, even if they didn’t kill anyone or know that someone had been killed.
“Most people have no idea that you could be charged with murder and convicted with murder without having committed murder or even being present when the murder occurred,” Senator Nancy Skinner, who introduced the legislation, said at the time. The author of the bill was Kate Chatfield, then the policy director of Restore Justice, an organization that, according to its website, “develops policy solutions that will roll back the ‘tough on crime’ policies of the past.” Chatfield is a longtime friend of Boudin’s, working as his senior director of legislation and policy before being elevated to Chief of Staff after David Campos left to run for the District 17 assembly seat vacated by David Chiu.
“District attorneys can no longer threaten everyone with a first-degree life sentence in the same way,” Chatfield said of SB 1437 when it was enacted. And, the law applies retroactively, meaning people can petition to have a murder conviction vacated. Chatfield estimated that approximately 800 people could be resentenced under her new legislation — and Lamonte Mims thinks he should be one of them.
The attorney representing Mims, Paul Demeester, has appeared before two judges asking that the murder charge be thrown out under SB 1437. Both requests were denied. “You say you weren’t an active participant,” one of the judges said. “I watched the video three times and you kicked the man while he was dying.” Even Judge Brendan Conroy, who actively works on resentencing felony murder cases with the SFDA’s office, said Mims was equally culpable.
BOUDIN ASKS FOR MEETING TO DISCUSS POSSIBLE PLEA DEALS
When Boudin took office, Lorrie asked if he would be stepping in and changing the charges on her brother’s accused killers. “He said ‘no — it was a murder,’” Lorrie says. “But now he’s stepping in.”
Recently, Lorrie found out that Boudin met with the defense attorneys representing Mims and Decuir regarding possible plea deals for the pair. Demeester still believes Mims should not be charged with murder under SB 1437, and Decuir’s attorney, Mark Iverson (who did “intensive discovery” on his client and her family) is also seeking to lessen her culpability because she suffers from sickle cell anemia. Both suspects are young, with Mims just 19 at the time, and Boudin has long made it clear that he doesn’t believe young people should go to jail.
The assistant district attorney currently assigned to the case, Heather Trevisan, informed Lorrie that Boudin wanted to meet with her on February 24 to “go over the requests” of the defense attorneys. In a stunning conflict of interest, SB 1437 author and current Boudin chief of staff Kate Chatfield would also be present at the meeting. “Both judges Murphy and Conroy found Mims was an active participant, Decuir was considered sane at the time of the murder, and Gascon would not allow the special circumstances to be dropped on either of them — in other words, life without parole,” Lorrie says. “Now Chesa wants to meet with us, and my biggest concern is that the district attorney is just an extension of the public defender.”
Lorrie says she told Trevisan that the family “had no intention of agreeing to reduce anything,” and they wanted the trial to commence with both parties charged with special circumstances and facing life in prison without parole. “Heather said she relayed our feelings to Chesa, but that he does not need our approval, and can unilaterally change the charges based on what he thinks is just,” Lorrie says. “I am very concerned about his final decision no matter what we say or want. In my opinion, Chesa still thinks like the public defender he was. If he removes the special circumstances, they’re facing 25 to life with parole.”
Including the time they’ve already served awaiting trial, Decuir and Mims could be out in just a few years. That’s a prospect neither Lorrie nor Brian can live with. “There was no reason to shoot him — they had the camera. It’s on film,” Lorrie says, her voice breaking. “Mims had a stay away order from Twin Peaks for all the crimes he committed up there. They murdered my brother. We’ve suffered for five years waiting for justice. Now we have a DA who is supposed to represent victims and he wants to remove the special circumstances? We are 100 percent against this.”
When asked about Boudin’s preference for “restorative justice” over incarceration, Lorrie says, “Restorative justice? If they can restore my brother, that would be justice. Restore what? Restore them back to the streets to do this to others? I am not the victim who will get up and say ‘I forgive you.’ There is no forgiveness in my heart. We have fought five years for justice. We are not going away until we have justice for Ed.”
UPDATE: The DA’s office cancelled the February 24 meeting, citing COVID restrictions and Lorrie having too many people (14) planning to attend. “I responded right away that it would be family members only (5) but the head of the Victims Unit [Kasie Lee] emailed me she had already sent it into the administration and they pulled it off the calendar,” Lorrie said in an email. “Bottom line, she said, Chesa was aware of our opposition to reducing charges for Mims and Decuir. She said they would reschedule.”