San Francisco prosecutors filed various charges Wednesday against a 43-year-old woman in connection with a series of attacks on Polk Street that one victim says may have been racially motivated.
Emmi Lopez, a transgender woman who is listed in court records as Michael A. Lopez, is facing assault, battery and other charges after police arrested her in the string of incidents Monday morning near Polk and Clay streets that involved three Asian victims.
The attacks garnered attention on social media amid widespread fear that Asian Americans are being assaulted because of their race following shootings last week at spas in Georgia and other local incidents that have grabbed headlines since late January.
While police booked Lopez on suspicion of a hate crime, the District Attorney’s Office has not filed hate crime charges against her, citing the need for further investigation into the possible motive.
“We are alarmed about the ongoing crimes against AAPI victims, which stem from racist and hateful rhetoric promoted by the past president, especially during the pandemic,” said Rachel Marshall, a spokesperson for District Attorney Chesa Boudin. “Our current filed charges are based on the information we have at this time.”
The attacks unfolded just before 8 a.m. Monday when police say Lopez followed two women and threw an object that struck one of them as they ran away.
Simon Lau, one of the victims in the attack, said the suspect then “made a beeline” to him. He described the altercation in a letter to city officials that he also posted on social media.
“I told him to stop and to walk away from me, or I would feel compelled to defend myself,” Lau wrote. “He accelerated towards me, and, for fear that he would attack me, I pepper-sprayed him.”
Lau said he used the pepper spray again after the suspect threatened to kill or cut him and charged him with a stick.
The suspect then crossed the street and assaulted a homeless man who was laying down on the sidewalk, as well as a bystander who tried to intervene, according to police and Lau.
Lau urged authorities to investigate whether racism played a factor in the attacks in light of other incidents nationwide.
“I was attacked in SF in what I can only describe as a case of anti-Asian hate,” Lau tweeted.
While members of the community may believe an incident is a hate crime, David Campos, chief of staff for Boudin, said prosecutors need concrete evidence to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt in court.
“Whenever something like this happens you are always looking for any evidence of racial animus,” Campos said. “But there has to be evidence of that and that’s always a challenge.”
But the office has filed hate crime charges in the recent past, including on about nine occasions in 2020, according to Campos.
Earlier this month, the office charged Victor Humberto Brown, 53, with a hate crime after police said he hurled a racial epithet at an Asian man sitting at a bus stop near Ocean and Plymouth avenues March 13.
Brown told the man to, “Get out of my country” and, “Go back to where you came from,” before assaulting the victim, according to police.
The District Attorney’s Office initially filed misdemeanor battery and hate crime charges against Brown, but is amending the charges to felony assault with a hate crime enhancement.
Campos said prosecutors “do not hesitate to file” when there is evidence of a hate crime.
In the Lopez case, police have not made public any evidence indicating that the incident was motivated by hate.
“Though the victims reported that no hate speech was uttered, investigators are working to determine if racial bias was a motivating factor in the incident,” said Officer Robert Rueca, a police spokesperson.
Lopez is facing two felonies for assault with a deadly weapon and criminal threats. She also faces misdemeanor battery and drug charges, including for possession of methamphetamine.
Lopez pleaded not guilty to the charges at her first court appearance in the case Wednesday where a judge ordered she be held without bail pending trial at the request of the District Attorney’s Office.
Her attorney with the Public Attorney’s Office, Semuteh Freeman, asked that her client be released and requested a mental health evaluation.
”We are just starting to receive information,” Freeman said. “What I can confirm is that police were responding to a mental health call, and we will be supporting our client as the case moves forward. We will have more information in the coming days.”