Two weeks after announcing felony charges in a high-profile, anti-Asian hate crime case, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office faced a setback at the hearing on Wednesday.
The incident took place in Dolores Park on Jan. 30. The suspect, 30-year-old Armando Sanchez Vazuquez, allegedly threw a brick and a metal grate at three Asian American victims. According to a police report and the DA’s Office, he also yelled vulgar words, racial slurs and “Go back to China” at them.
After Sanchez Vazuquez’s arrest, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced four charges against him. Three were assaults with hate crime enhancements, and the fourth was elder abuse, as one of the victims is a 73-year-old Korean American woman.
However, after a preliminary hearing and evidence presented, Judge Marisa Chun accepted only two charges involving that older victim, while reducing one to a misdemeanor offense and dismissing the other felony charge connected to the younger victims.
The DA’s Office provided a statement Thursday saying it will prepare for trial and continue to move this prosecution forward.
"Mr. Sanchez Vazuquez was held to answer on the felony elder abuse charge," the statement said, "as well as one felony assault with a deadly weapon charge."
One key piece of evidence is a video of the incident, which was not publicly shown in the courtroom. Kleigh Hathaway, the public defender for Sanchez Vazuquez, argued that the suspect was just holding the heavy metal grate but didn’t raise it while approaching the elder victim, and the brick he threw toward the other two victims didn’t land close to them.
No one was physically injured in the incident.
Hathaway also pointed out there’s another victim in the case, one who is not Asian American, but the DA’s Office didn’t file charges pertaining to that individual.
The suspect was described as being intoxicated during the incident after consuming half a bottle of tequila.
"I don't believe any of his actions rise to the level of a hate crime, and we'll be vigorously disputing the remaining charges in court," Hathaway said.
During the hearing, Sanchez Vazuquez was assisted by a Spanish interpreter. Three police officers provided testimony, stating that the suspect said he was from Southern California, and there was a Chinese mafia threatening to kill his family. The suspect also told the officers that he was pepper-sprayed by a group of people prior to the incident, and there was a Chinese person in that group.
The next hearing will be in March.
Han Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org