It’s been 500 days since the tragedy that killed her father, and Monthanus Ratanapakdee is reliving the trauma that left her family reeling in grief.
The preliminary hearing of the criminal case in the killing of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee—who was shoved to death in early 2021—commenced this week in San Francisco. That means Monthanus sat in a courtroom while suspect Antoine Watson, witnesses and legal representatives revisited all the details of the high-profile incident.
“My body was shaking,” Monthanus told The Standard after Wednesday’s hearing. “This is horrible for me.”
For more than a year, even in deep sorrow, Monthanus has positioned herself at the front lines of the Stop Asian Hate movement, which her father’s death galvanized when the violent push was caught on video and widely seen around the country.
But this time, as a daughter who lost her father, she’s not hiding her vulnerability.
“My family lost Grandpa Vicha,” she said in tears. “My son lost his grandfather.”
Myron Lee, an Asian American activist who sat through Wednesday’s court hearing next to Monthanus, said he believes that the proceedings and resulting media coverage will reopen wounds for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in San Francisco and beyond.
“Monthanus didn't plan to be an activist, but the death of her father forced her to become one,” Lee said. “We are all here in the courtroom today to support her, her family and the AAPI community as a whole to ensure that there is justice and closure."
The judge is expected to decide Friday whether to proceed to trial with the charges of murder and inflicting injury on the elderly. The District Attorney’s Office has presented the evidence while the Public Defender’s Office, which disagrees with the murder charge, will provide arguments challenging the prosecutorial approach.
Deputy Public Defender Anita Nabha, who represents Watson at court, said she believes there is insufficient evidence to charge Watson with murder.
Nabha told The Standard that Watson never intended to kill Ratanapakdee, and that the incident was not a hate crime. She noted that Ratanapakdee’s features were hidden beneath a hat and mask, and that Watson was not aware of the man’s age, race, or any other identifiers in the moment.
“Antoine, who was just 19 years old at the time, was going through a period of trauma and mental distress when he tragically pushed Mr. Ratanapakdee,” Nabha said, referring to Watson’s prior encounter with police during a traffic stop where officers “inexplicably drew their firearms and pointed them in his direction and handcuffed him.”
The DA’s Office couldn’t be reached for comment.
As for Monthanus, she said she wants justice to be served and believes everyone should feel safe walking on the street. She also hoped society will pay more attention to the trauma borne by the Asian American community.
“It’s time,” she said, “for healing for everyone.”
Han Li can be reached at [email protected]