This past New Year’s Eve, 45-year-old parolee Troy McAlister was evading a robbery in a stolen car. He ran a red light, striking and killing 60-year-old Elizabeth Platt and 27-year-old Hanako Abe in the crosswalk at Mission and 2nd Streets. As of April 2020, McAlister faced a three-strikes life prison term for a 2015 robbery, based on previous convictions for carjacking and robbery. But San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin issued a policy last February not to pursue three-strikes cases, granting McAlister credit for the five years he served.
After his release, McAlister was arrested several more times for auto burglary, drugs, and theft. On Dec. 20, he was arrested on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle and possessing burglary tools. Rather than charge McAlister with new crimes, Boudin kicked the cases to state parole officers. Just 11 days later, McAlister killed Platt and Abe. The tragedy shocked San Franciscans, but having researched this column for six months, I know there are many other cases of repeat offenders freed by Boudin’s office who went on to commit heinous crimes.
Boudin talks a big game. Phrases like “decarceration,” “social justice reform” and “restorative justice” slide off his tongue with the slickness of a snake oil salesman. He preaches about how the prison system is stacked against people of color — and I agree with him. The problem is, Boudin has no plan, and those being victimized most often are people of color. Sadly, both offenders profiled in this column are young, Black men who slipped through the cracks of a fractured system, leaving one of them dead, one facing life in prison, and devastated family members on all sides.
THE MANY RED FLAGS OF ZION YOUNG
Zion Dwayne Young has been caught up in the legal system since he was a juvenile. By age 16 he was already committing robberies. On Oct. 7, 2018, at age 18, Young was arrested in Marin County for trespassing, assault with a deadly weapon, and having an active warrant for his arrest in San Francisco. Just over a year later, on Dec. 11, 2019, Bayview Station officers responded to a report of a vehicle evading San Francisco sheriffs in Hunter’s Point. After a struggle, officers took Zion Young into custody and charged him with obstruction, receiving or concealing stolen property, addict in possession of a firearm, possession of ammunition, convicted felon in possession of a firearm, and carrying a loaded firearm in public. But then-District Attorney George Gascon — whose politics are aligned with his successor Boudin — dropped the charges, and Young was freed.
On Feb. 20, 2020, San Francisco police saw a silver Toyota with no license plates parked completely on the sidewalk. They found Zion Young in the passenger seat next to the driver, 26-year-old Fagamalama Pasene (remember that name) and a young woman in the backseat. Officers saw a glass pipe commonly used for smoking methamphetamines with residue. They cited Pasene for having no license plates and parking on the sidewalk. When Young reached toward the floorboard, officers asked him to exit the vehicle. He took off running and jumped a fence, where a witness told police they saw him toss a gun. Officers located a loaded Arminus .38 caliber “Titan Tiger” and eventually took Young into custody. A records check revealed Young had a prior “felon in possession of a firearm” charge. He was booked on 11 felonies related to firearms, but, according to former SFDA spokesperson Alex Bastian, the charges were reduced to one misdemeanor gun charge and Young was released on an ankle monitor.
Less than three months later, on May 7, 2020, San Francisco police responded to a shooting in the Portola District. They found 19-year-old Kelvin Chew suffering from a gunshot wound. He died at the scene. According to a friend, Chew, the son of Chinese immigrants, had just finished a class on Zoom and wanted to get some fresh air. Members of the community and evidence led police to the suspects, Fagamalama Pasene and Zion Young, who they believe killed Chew in a botched robbery. Pasene was charged with murder and attempted robbery, and Young was charged with murder, attempted robbery, and more of those firearm offenses that have haunted his young criminal life. Charging documents indicate Young was the shooter. Both suspects are currently being held without bail awaiting trial.
THE EXTENSIVE RED FLAGS OF VERMOND JONES
On May 14, 2020, Fremont police identified 21-year-old San Francisco resident Vermond Jones as one of three suspects in a crime spree that included a violent home invasion robbery. During the home invasion, suspects pointed firearms at the victim, made the victim lie on the ground, ransacked the residence, and stole multiple items. The suspects also attempted two other robberies in the East Bay and the brutal robbery of a woman in San Francisco — all on the same day.
Jones had an extensive and violent criminal history and was a documented member of the “Fillmore – Knock Out Posse” gang. He had been arrested for 35 separate charges with six separate cases pending in San Francisco, including burglary (multiple counts), carrying a loaded firearm, grand theft from a person, possession of a stolen vehicle (multiple counts), false imprisonment, and child endangerment. Despite all this, Jones was free on an ankle monitor, which he wore during the crime spree.
On Oct. 1, 2020, on Geary Street in Union Square, a group of suspects attempted to steal a Rolex watch from a man. As a struggle ensued, the victim was able to turn the gun around and shoot one of the suspects — Vermond Jones — who later died at the hospital. During his 21 years, Jones was arrested more than a dozen times and charged with over 70 crimes.
COULD MCALISTER, YOUNG AND JONES HAVE BEEN SAVED?
By releasing violent repeat offenders, Boudin is not only letting down victims and their families, but he’s also letting down offenders — often young men of color — and their families. The mother and uncle of Troy McAlister told ABC7’s Dion Lim they were heartbroken for the victims, angry at Boudin for not keeping McAlister locked up, and saddened by the loss of someone they loved. “I’m very sorry, I wish it hadn’t happened and I will be praying for her and I hope she is doing likewise for us,” McAlister’s mother said. “Even though Troy didn’t get hurt or killed, it’s the end of his life.”
Could Troy McAlister, Zion Young, and Vermond Jones have been saved? With Young and McAlister facing life in prison and Jones dead, we’ll never know. One thing is certain: Kelvin Chew, Hanako Abe, and Elizabeth Platt would all be alive today had someone paid attention to all those red flags. No one disagrees the justice system needs to be reformed, but that won’t happen overnight. Boudin often says there are other options besides prison, but he never provides any concrete examples. He’s a man without a plan, and talk is cheap — but lives shouldn’t be. Until Boudin has programs in place instead of empty words, San Francisco’s top prosecutor needs to do whatever it takes to keep the city safe, even if it means doing something he hates: locking people up.
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