At 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 11, Paneez Kosarian came home to The Watermark condominium complex on Beale Street, just steps away from a planned homeless navigation center, when she was suddenly and violently attacked. Surveillance video shows Kosarian pulled to the ground by a man, later identified as 25-year-old Austin James Vincent, who was ranting about robots. As Kosarian struggled with Vincent, a female security guard intervened and helped her get inside, but Vincent managed to get inside with her. It took two attempts for both women to push Vincent out and shut the door on him.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office charged Vincent (who has “no city of residence” on record) with false imprisonment, attempted robbery, and two counts of battery. Vincent pleaded not guilty. The video wasn’t shown in court (“Arraignments aren’t evidentiary hearings . . . If we were to play video at every arraignment the courts would come to a standstill,” District Attorney spokesman Max Szabo said via text message), but Judge Christine Van Aken had the police report detailing the vicious, unprovoked assault right in front of her. Over the District Attorney’s objections, she released Vincent to an “assertive case management” program, which falls under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project. “They’re looking at the police report, they’re in the courtroom with the client, they are listening to the D.A., public defender,” said CEO David Mauroff. In other words, they’re listening to everyone but the victims.
I write often about San Francisco’s lenient judges running a revolving door for criminals, and Van Aken’s decision was a textbook case. Residents were outraged, and the judge felt the heat. Five days later, after claiming she “inadvertently” saw the video on TV while having dinner at a restaurant, Van Aken ordered Vincent to wear an ankle monitor, but continued to defend allowing him to remain free, saying “she has to decide whether incarcerating someone with mental health and substance abuse issues is the answer.” (I’m not a judge, but when the crime is violent, it seems like an easy yes.)
Before his next hearing, a woman came forward saying she recognized Vincent as the man who threatened her with a knife near the same area in February. The police issued a warrant, Vincent surrendered, and Van Aken finally put him in jail. Those charges were later dismissed when evidence surfaced that Vincent was in Southern California at the time (meaning there’s still a knife-wielding unhinged person out there), but the District Attorney’s office asked Judge Ross Moody, filling in for Van Aken, to keep Vincent in custody for the attack on Kosarian. This time the judge agreed, doing what Van Aken should have done in the first place.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
It seems city leaders should realize what residents realized a long time ago — San Francisco is in a state of emergency. Mayor London Breed told a reporter (who caught her as she dashed between public appearances) that she thought the judge was wrong to let Vincent go. Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the district where the attack occurred, said he also felt the judge made the wrong choice. The following week, two more people were attacked in the area, one right in front of the now infamous Watermark condos. Peter Prows, attorney for Safe Embarcadero For All, the group fighting construction of the navigation center next to The Watermark, said in an Aug. 18 news conference that violent assaults near the proposed center have “doubled since this time last year.”
Despite expressing concern, both Breed and Haney continue to support the waterfront shelter. Breed said she thinks navigation centers are the “best way to get the homeless off the street, into transitional housing and ultimately into permanent housing.” But city statistics show that navigation centers have just a 14 percent success rate of securing permanent housing, so why won’t the mayor look for better solutions?
YOU SAY ‘FELON,’ I SAY ‘JUSTICE-INVOLVED’
Meanwhile at City Hall, the Board of Supervisors is busy voting on important legislation that fits a progressive agenda circa 1985. On July 16 they unanimously passed a resolution “recognizing the harmful impacts of the institutionalization of the use of pejorative language to refer to formerly incarcerated people.”
In other words, the board would rather you not use terms like “felon,” “convict,” or “addict.” Instead, they want to boost the self-esteem of criminals by calling them “justice-involved,” “formerly incarcerated” or simply “returning residents.” Supervisor Haney said, “We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done.” So I guess when Vincent gets out of jail — likely sooner than later — he will be known as “a returning resident.” I’m sure that’s going to make a huge difference when he’s back on the streets and off his meds.
THE WILD, WILD WEST WITH NO SHERIFF IN TOWN
In the late afternoon of Tuesday, August 20, a brave bystander captured video of gunfire on Market and Sixth Streets. In the video (shot by Jenny Shao), you hear an initial shot, then a flurry of shots ring out as the camera pans to a gunman firing haphazardly across a crowded, rush hour Market Street. People scream and run for their lives. One person is taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The entire scene is like a modern-day wild, wild west. The fact neither Mayor Breed nor a single supervisor publicly condemned the daylight shootout is not only disturbing, it’s evidence of just how lawless San Francisco has become — and how little they seem to care.
When the feds came to town in early August saying they planned to clean up the crime-infested Tenderloin (deeming it one of the largest open-air drug markets in the state of California), city officials had similarly odd reactions. Breed flashed her trademark smile but didn’t return press calls for comment. The first sweep yielded 32 arrests, mostly Honduran nationals tied to two international operations that drenched the vulnerable community in cocaine and heroin. Supervisor Haney, who, along with the Embarcadero, represents the Tenderloin, said he hoped the sweeps weren’t “a way to get around San Francisco sanctuary laws.”
All of this makes me wonder why residents keep voting the same politicians into office over and over again. Former mayor and current powerbroker Willie Brown brags openly about having a hand in picking every mayor who has succeeded him. And like Brown, none of them have made San Francisco better. Breed is clearly out of her depth leading a city in crisis, yet she won’t face a single formidable opponent in her bid for reelection.
What we need right now is laser focus, all departments on deck, and leaders who can get it done. Let’s stop wasting valuable time and our considerable resources on stuff that doesn’t matter and programs that don’t work.
And as trite as it sounds, get out there and vote. You can yell about the deterioration of a once-great city, but until you get angry at the ballot box, your leaders will fiddle while San Francisco burns.
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