After outrage, judge orders suspect in attack of woman caught on video to wear ankle monitor
A judge under fire for releasing a man who allegedly attacked a woman outside her Embarcadero condo ruled Friday that the suspect must wear an ankle monitor.
The hearing Friday came after Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Matt Haney and others slammed San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken for releasing -year-old Austin James Vincent. He is suspected of attacking -year-old Paneez Kosarian as she entered her Beale Street condominium building Sunday.
The outrage from officials and the public came in the wake of a widely shared building surveillance video showing the attack. But Van Aken said Friday that the video hadn’t been submitted in court and she had not seen it when she ruled in the case. She saw it Wednesday on a TV in a restaurant.
“When I saw the video, I was frankly alarmed at the level of violence,” she said at Friday’s hearing. “It altered my assessment of the public-safety risk of this case. I take public safety very seriously.”
Videos are not typically played at arraignments, said Max Szabo, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, adding that the algorithm used to assess whether a person might re-offend recommended Vincent stay in custody.
On Monday, Vincent pleaded not guilty to charges of false imprisonment, two counts of battery and attempted robbery. Van Aken ordered him into a pretrial diversion program that provides mental health services rather than keeping him in jail while awaiting his next court appearance.
Deputy District Attorney Edward Chang said his office didn’t provide the video as evidence at Vincent’s arraignment because they relied on the police report, which they felt was sufficient. Van Aken ordered the district attorney’s office to submit the video into evidence no later than Monday at noon.
While the video may have prompted Van Aken to re-evaluate Vincent’s case, she stressed that incarceration is not a tenable solution for treating the mentally ill. She added that she was “really glad” to hear that Vincent was responding well to treatment.
The ruling to release Vincent was over the wishes of the district attorney and Kosarian, who said that before the attack Vincent had talked about killing robots that wanted to take over the world.
Politicians were also upset about the decision to release Vincent.
“I think the court’s decision to release him while he awaits trial was clearly wrong,” Breed said in a statement Thursday. “This man needs to be receiving mental health services under observation, not back out on the street.”
Van Aken ordered Vincent to wear an ankle monitor at Friday’s hearing. She scheduled another hearing for Monday with the attorneys to make sure the monitor is added, and excused Vincent from appearing in court on Friday and Monday.
Vincent’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Saleem Belbahri, objected to Van Aken’s decision to add the ankle monitor as a condition of his release, saying Vincent was “in a mental health crisis” at the time of the incident and that the judge shouldn’t be swayed by the “public pressure” the case has drawn.
The controversy over the attack and Van Aken’s original decision was seized on by opponents of the city’s under-construction homeless shelter on the Embarcadero. They have used the attack as fuel to continue to argue the Navigation Center should be stopped. The group, Safe Embarcadero for All, sued to halt the shelter and is awaiting the lawsuit’s resolution.
“Our streets are not safe, our homes are not safe,” said Wallace Lee, a member of the group, in a statement Friday. “The City wants more shelters when it cannot deal with the ones it has currently. Judges allow dangerous, most likely mentally ill and drug addicted homeless attackers back on to San Francisco’s streets.”
The district attorney’s office clarified Friday that Vincent was never released directly back on the streets, as many initially believed. It’s not clear if Vincent is homeless, but police said he has no known local address.
Szabo said Vincent had stayed one night at the Salvation Army and is now at the NoVA housing program, where he can come and go as he pleases. He has to check in three times a week in person with his case manager, Van Aken said. The program Vincent is participating in requires regular check-ins with a caseworker tasked with ensuring that he does not present a threat to public safety and that he makes his court dates.
“The pretrial diversion program has been watching him like a hawk,” said Szabo.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera criticized the district attorney’s decision to not present the video as evidence during Vincent’s arraignment.
“We now know from today’s court proceeding that the district attorney’s office … did not provide that key piece of evidence to the judge. That is information that should’ve been before the judge so she could weigh all of the facts in this case.”
Herrera also denounced what he called the public’s “rush to judgment” in condemning Van Aken’s decision to release Vincent.
Prior to becoming a judge last year, Van Aken was a prominent and accomplished litigator in Herrera’s office.
Van Aken also defended her original decision Friday. She said that because Vincent had only one conviction for petty theft in , she didn’t previously deem him a public-safety threat.
“Because of what I saw in the video, I do have some public-safety concerns now,” she added.
Dominic Fracassa is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Emily Fancher is an assistant metro editor. dfracassasfchroniclem, emily.fanchersfchroniclem
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