Three days after a woman was stabbed in a bakery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the suspect has appeared in court, where a connection to a violent 2016 incident surfaced.
Fook Poy Lai, 61, a Cantonese speaker who was recently released from prison on parole, was arrested Monday and is accused of stabbing a female staff member at the AA Bakery store on Stockton Street, leaving her with life-threatening injuries.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office has charged Lai with multiple felonies, including attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors also requested that he be kept in custody without bail and have his parole revoked.
During Thursday’s brief court hearing, a Cantonese interpreter assisted Lai in understanding the proceedings, and he agreed to move his arraignment hearing to later this month.
Law enforcement is still investigating Lai’s motive, but more details about his violent past are coming out. For example, court records show that Lai stabbed a man in 2016 in San Francisco. That victim, Dian Chen, was the father of AA Bakery owner Henry Chen.
Henry Chen confirmed the 2016 incident with The Standard but couldn’t remember if Lai had been his father’s attacker, even after the police told him Lai was. Chen provided his father’s date of birth, which matches the age of the victim of the 2016 case. Dian Chen died several years after the attack.
The Standard has requested court records from the 2016 stabbing, only to be told that retrieval of the pertinent documents will take several more days. In the meantime, Chen said he hopes the justice system will handle this case fairly and Chinatown will return to peace and harmony.
However, local Chinese-language media also have reported on a connection between the two stabbing incidents. According to a 2016 news clip provided by KTSF-TV, a local Chinese station, Dian Chen was stabbed in Portsmouth Square during a poker game in May 2016. Coverage at that time named Lai as the suspect. Dian Chen told KTSF that he didn’t know the suspect.
Lai later entered a plea deal on the attempted murder charge and was sentenced to nine years in state prison.
After the hearing on Thursday, Lai’s defense attorney from the Public Defender’s Office, Diamond Ward, said Lai struggled with mental health issues.
“Mr. Lai suffers and has a long history and extensive history with mental health issues,” Ward said. “He's been a member of our local community for almost his entire life.”
Ward also emphasized that the jail system repeatedly failed Lai by denying him access to proper mental health and preventative care.
However, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in an interview that she will “do everything in our power to keep the people who we know are dangerous and present a public safety risk off of our streets.”
Jenkins said that Lai was released on parole by the state's authority and that his release was not a decision by her administration.
The 58-year-old stabbed Monday, called “Ah Fen” by her colleagues, was just starting her shift at AA Bakery when the attack occurred. She was sent to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital for urgent care and is now in stable condition.
Jade Wu, a Cantonese-speaking community activist and assistant to Assemblyman Phil Ting, has been helping Ah Fen since day one and visited her every day to provide counseling. Wu said that Ah Fen was stabbed in the head, neck and back a total of eight times, requiring dozens of stitches.
Through Wu, Ah Fen thanked the public for their attention and support. She said she’s still having nightmares because of the attack and asked for privacy.
The next court hearing is set for June 27.
Han Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org