Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

An Asian woman was pushed to death. Nine months later, politicians are fighting about it

A man speaking at a podium on the left; a woman in a pink blazer, arms crossed, on the right. Both appear engaged in serious discussions.
Board President Aaron Peskin’s resolution triggered District Attorney Brooke Jenkins to hit back. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard & Justin Katigbak for The Standard

Last July, a Chinese immigrant woman named Yanfang Wu died after being pushed to the ground in San Francisco. Now, almost nine months later, her death is back in the spotlight and igniting a firestorm as political candidates jockey for support in the influential Asian American community.

After Board President Aaron Peskin called for law enforcement to further investigate Wu’s death, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins hit back in a scathing statement accusing Peskin of seeking “attention prior to launching his expected mayoral campaign.” 

Over the weekend, Mayor London Breed called on the San Francisco Police Department to release the video footage of the fatal push, forcing Police Chief Bill Scott to make the same promise on social media.

Wu, who was 63, was pushed to death on a sidewalk in the Bayview neighborhood last year. SFPD detained and questioned Thea Hopkins, according to sources, and later released her and officially ruled the fatal push as an accident. In other words, police determined that no crime was committed, and no arrests were made.

Then, on March 4, Hopkins was arrested for allegedly attacking a 71-year-old Chinese immigrant woman without provocation. The incident infuriated the Asian American community, who demanded that city leaders reopen the investigation of Wu’s death and release video of the incident. SFPD has reopened the case.

Peskin and Jenkins’ chaotic fight

On Tuesday, Peskin introduced a resolution urging the District Attorney’s Office and SFPD to release police investigation reports, witness accounts and video information related to Wu’s death, and to explain the reasons for determining the incident an “accidental death.”

“We are asking that the police and district attorney be transparent,” Peskin told Chinese-language media. “We can all see what happened and know whether or not they missed some steps.”

Peskin also wanted to find out whether the Wu family ever received any culturally competent services and assistance. Wu’s husband moved back to China after the incident.

The key question is whether the district attorney had a role in ruling Wu’s death an accident, as there was never a criminal case presented to prosecutors. Peskin said that the district attorney and police made the decision together.

Jenkins’ strongly worded statement slammed Peskin as “ignorant.” In a rare move, Jenkins speculated on Peskin’s expected run for mayor—where he would face off against moderates including Breed, nonprofit founder Daniel Lurie and former interim Mayor Mark Farrell, all of whom have sought support in the Asian American community. 

Both Farrell and Lurie signed a community letter to urge SFPD to release the video, too.

Jenkins criticized Peskin’s resolution as a “desperate attempt” to “fight for his political relevance as he sees the end of his political career coming soon.” Peskin will be termed out of his supervisor seat in January 2025. 

However, Jenkins’ statement didn’t address whether her attorneys were involved in the investigation or reviewing the evidence.

In a statement, Peskin criticized Jenkins for being defensive over his resolution.

“My colleagues and I are simply joining the community and the mayor in requesting that factual information,” Peskin said. “What is the district attorney trying to hide?”

Breed only asked for the video to be released after the investigation is completed and the victim’s families are informed. Peskin went further in requesting police reports.

In a separate statement, the District Attorney’s Office admitted that an on-call attorney will normally be present with police during the interview of a homicide suspect to answer legal questions or suggest clarifying lines of questioning. However, the police ultimately decide whether there is probable cause to arrest a suspect, and the police do not ask the district attorney’s permission.

Retired Judge Lillian Sing, who endorsed Jenkins’ opponent this November, said that it is normal practice that the district attorney will help review the evidence when someone is killed and there’s a person of interest.

Politicization of Wu’s death?

It is also rare for Breed to weigh in on a specific criminal investigation—let alone to ask the police department, which she oversees as mayor, to release information about a fatal case.

In an interview, Breed rejected the idea that her public move politicizes the incident.

A woman in a red blazer speaks at a podium with a microphone, against a purple backdrop.
Mayor London Breed publicly asked the San Francisco Police Department to release the video footage of a fatal push. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

“I think more of it is about how people want transparency,” Breed told The Standard. “We try to do it as quickly as possible to release the video to make sure that people understand we’re not trying to hide anything.”

Wednesday, Hopkins appeared in court briefly as she remains in custody awaiting an initial hearing in the March incident.

Hopkins’ defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Erin Morgan, said she recognized that the 2023 July incident “has created undue speculation” about Hopkins. She also strongly urged the public to not draw “false conclusions based purely on speculation.”

She described Hopkins as an impoverished and formerly homeless person, who also struggled to survive traumas and afflictions since childhood and was a victim of gender-based violence.

In a separate statement, the Public Defender’s Office said the politicization of Wu’s death is concerning because Hopkins should not be pulled into politics or dehumanized.

“[It] encourages speculation, taints jury pools, and threatens the fairness of the judicial process,” the statement said. 
“It can shift the conversation to politically expedient outcomes rather than finding just solutions.”

It’s unclear when SFPD will finish the investigation and disclose the video. The case will continue in court on Thursday.

Han Li can be reached at