Wrongful Death Filing Accuses District Attorney of Conflict of Interest

  • The family of Hanako Abe, a woman killed in a hit-and-run crash on New Year's Eve 2020, filed a wrongful death claim against the City of San Francisco

  • The claim alleges that negligence by the District Attorney's office, which didn't charge the defendant in a prior crime days before the incident, led to her death. The claim also alleges a conflict of interest by DA Chesa Boudin, who briefly represented the defendant while working as a public defender

  • Legal claims against the City are common, but wrongful death claims are not

  • There were 3,079 claims filed against San Francisco in 2019, ranging from personal injury to property damage and tax issues. The City paid out more than $5 million in settlement money during that time period

An attorney for the family of Hanako Abe, a woman killed in a hit-and-run crash on New Year's Eve of last year, has filed a wrongful death claim alleging that the City was negligent in keeping a dangerous driver off the streets.

Abe was one of two people fatally struck at Second and Mission Streets last year. The driver, Troy McAlister, was found to have run a red light while intoxicated in a stolen car. McAlister had been arrested several times in 2020, and was arrested and released just days before the fatal crash after an email from the District Attorney's office to San Francisco police failed to reach someone who was out on vacation.

"After the December 20, 2020 arrest of McAlister, an Assistant District Attorney had sent an email to a San Francisco Police Department Sergeant stating 'Please contact (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) regarding [McAlister)'s alleged misbehavior'," the claim alleges. "Unfortunately, the Police Sergeant was out of the office during the holiday. Getting no response, McAlister was back on the streets on December 23."

An Assistant District Attorney later acknowledged that the office "missed" McAlister's pattern of behavior last year.

The claim, filed by attorney Ara Jabagchourian, alleges that the mistake amounts to a wrongful death and asks for an amount higher than $25,000 in compensation for the Abe family. Jabagchourian told Public Comment that the City has 60 days to review the claim and devise a response, at which point he and the family can decide whether or not to file a lawsuit in court.

It also accuses District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was previously an attorney at the Public Defender's Office, of a conflict of interest. Boudin had made an appearance on behalf of McAlister in a case from 2015. Those facts contradict the California State Bar's rules of professional conduct, as well as a conflict of interest precedent in City and County of San Francisco v. Cobra Solutions, Inc. (2006), according to Jabagchourian.

The District Attorney's office told the San Francisco Chronicle that Boudin only represented McAlister for a brief period. The City Attorney's office is reviewing the claim.

Wrongful death claims against the City appear to be rare, and there is no guarantee that the Abe family's claim would result in a successful lawsuit or desired settlement.

According to records provided by the City Attorney, there were 3,079 claims filed in 2019 against the City and County of San Francisco for personal injury, property damage, tax refunds and other matters. San Francisco paid out more than $5 million in settlement funds during that time period.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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