Chesa Boudin with his dad, David Gilbert, in an undated photo. (Photo/San Francisco District Attorney's Office)
Chesa Boudin with his dad, David Gilbert, in an undated photo. (Photo/San Francisco District Attorney's Office)

San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin’s dad to be freed from prison after 40 years

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David Gilbert, the 77-year-old Jewish father of San Francisco’s chief prosecutor Chesa Boudin, was granted parole this week and will be released Nov. 30 after spending 40 years in prison for participating in a politically motivated armed robbery.

Boudin, the progressive district attorney profiled in J. two years ago, described in a public message his relief and gratitude, as well as his concern for the victims of his father’s crime, which left three people dead in a shootout in upstate New York. Gilbert was unarmed during the incident, according to multiple media reports.

“My father was granted release on parole today, after more than 40 years in prison!” Boudin wrote in a tweet on Tuesday next to a crying emoji and a heart.

“I am so grateful to the Parole Board. I’m also grateful to everyone who has supported my father during his more than 4 decades behind bars,” he wrote, adding: “I’m thinking about the other children affected by my father’s crime, and want to make sure that nothing I do or say further upsets the victims’ families. Their loved ones will never be forgotten.”

In 1981, Boudin’s father and mother, Kathy Boudin, both members of the left-wing militant group the Weather Underground, took part in an ambush of an armored truck carrying more than $1 million in cash in Rockland County, New York. The robbery, which was planned by the Black Liberation Army and the May 19th Communist Organization, according to the New York Times, led to a shootout that resulted in the deaths of Sgt. Edward O’Grady and Officer Waverly Brown of the Nyack Police Department and Brink’s guard Peter Paige.

Chesa Boudin celebrates his win, Nov. 9, 2019. (Photo/Natasha Florentino-Courtesy Boudin campaign)
Chesa Boudin celebrates his win, Nov. 9, 2019. (Photo/Natasha Florentino-Courtesy Boudin campaign)

Gilbert was sentenced to 75-years-to-life for felony murder. But in August, in the waning hours of a gubernatorial term curtailed by allegations of sexual harassment, Gov. Andrew Cuomo commuted Gilbert’s sentence, citing his contributions to AIDS education and prevention while in prison, and his work teaching and serving in the law library.

“He has served 40 years of a 75-year sentence, related to an incident in which he was the driver, not the murderer,” Cuomo wrote on Twitter.

Gilbert grew up in a Jewish family in the Boston area where he celebrated his bar mitzvah, Boudin told J. in the 2019 interview. Boudin’s mother is also Jewish and grew up “more secular” in New York, he said. Her connection to Judaism intensified in prison, where she served for 22 years before her release in 2003.

Boudin has said that his identity as a Jew and his experience having two incarcerated parents have each informed his approach to the criminal justice system.

He said Judaism has been a “constant theme in my life,” symbolizing to him the “fight for survival in the face of adversity” and discrimination.

During Passover he often visited his mother at her maximum security prison, he said, where they held a seder with other inmates.

A Rhodes scholar and former public defender turned progressive criminal justice reformer — he has pledged to tackle mass incarceration in San Francisco — Boudin has proven a controversial figure in a city struggling with drug use and overdoses, as well as highly publicized, often brazen property crime. A recall effort against him has gained steam and appears likely to make the ballot next year.

Two years ago Boudin beat an experienced field of prosecutors en route to the district attorney’s seat, even though he had never prosecuted a case. His campaign centered in part on reducing racial inequalities in the city’s criminal justice system, in which Black people were four times more likely to be arrested than whites, according to a 2018 study. His office stopped charging gang enhancements, which he said exacerbated racial inequities, and limited “pretextual” stops for minor traffic violations leading to drug arrests, which he said contributed to racial profiling.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.