A San Francisco judge on Tuesday ordered stricter disciplinary oversight of the man accused of violently attacking 84-year-old Rong Xin Liao in early 2020, reversing an earlier decision that put the suspect into an at-home mental health treatment program.
Liao, a Chinese immigrant who speaks little English, appeared in court two weeks ago and testified for the first time about the incident, which took place amid a wave of anti-Asian violence that began at the start of the pandemic. The grandfather, who spoke in Cantonese as he faced his alleged attacker, told Superior Court Judge Charles Crompton that after the incident—during which he was kicked to the ground as he sat in his walker waiting for a bus—he suffered severe head injuries, lost his sense of safety living in San Francisco and considered moving back to China. Liao said he hoped to see a “severe sentencing” of the suspect.
Eric Ramos-Hernandez, who was caught on surveillance video attacking Liao, was charged with assault and inflicting injuries on an elder. He was jailed for seven months and then admitted to Mental Health Diversion, which meant he was released for treatment at home. The diversion program focuses on rehabilitation to reduce recidivism, and, if participants successfully finish the program, they are released and the charges are dropped. However, during the release, Ramos-Hernandez was arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor in the South Bay, which put him back in custody. That new conviction was the basis for the recent hearing that led to the judge reversing course on the Mental Health Diversion deal.
The Liao family had been outspoken against the original outcome from the start and asked for tougher consequences for Ramos-Hernandez. Following Liao’s appearance in court on Dec. 2, Judge Crompton asked for a medical evaluation of Ramos-Hernandez. On Dec.14, the judge terminated the Mental Health Diversion for Ramos-Hernandez at the request of the District Attorney and moved him to the Behavioral Health Court, which will require round-the-clock supervision while continuing the mental health treatment. The Behavioral Health Court route also means that Ramos-Hernandez will still face charges and potential prosecution.
The Liao family and their family attorney could not be reached for comment on the judge’s new ruling.
Despite the latest outcome, the District Attorney’s Office has a tense relationship with the Liao family. The Standard reported in April that the DA’s office told the family their grandfather did not want to press charges, but the family said that Liao would never have said that, which appears evident in his recent court appearance.
When asked if Liao’s testimony played a role in the DA Office’s request to terminate the diversion program, Rachel Marshal, the office's spokesperson, responded “The new conviction was the legal basis to request the hearing on termination of mental health diversion.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Public Defender Sylvia Cediel, the attorney for Ramos-Hernandez, said that the judge’s decision is a recognition of Ramos-Hernandez’s mental health needs. “In admitting him to Behavior Health Court, Judge Crompton recognized that Mr. Ramos-Hernandez benefits from continued treatment, but also needs a higher level of support once he goes back into the community,” Cediel said in a statement.
The attack on Liao was first reported by ABC7 in surveillance video that went viral, exacerbating public safety concerns in the Asian-American community. The case has also stirred up the ongoing debate over whether the traditional tough-on-crime method or the mental health treatment route is most effective when it comes to public safety.
A dramatic moment during Liao’s testimony two weeks ago highlighted the divergent approaches: When Public Defender Cediel was presenting arguments to the judge describing Ramos-Hernandez’s mental health treatment and his progress, Liao—using an earphone for interpretation purposes—interrupted the speech, saying in Cantonese “I disagree!”
In Cediel’s statement after the testimony, she said “Jail is not a treatment center nor does it help people who have mental health issues.”
It remains unclear whether Ramos-Hernandez will plead to any charges or face prosecution.
Han Li can be reached at email@example.com