Antoine Watson is led away after his first court appearance in connection with the death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Antoine Watson is led away after his first court appearance in connection with the death of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Judge orders detention for teen held in fatal attack

Defense says incident was not racially motivated

A teenager charged with murder in the fatal attack on an elderly man who was shoved to the ground in San Francisco will not be released from custody while awaiting trial, a judge ruled Monday.

Antoine Watson, 19, has been held in County Jail since being arrested Jan. 30 for allegedly charging into 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee two days earlier in the Anza Vista neighborhood.

The ruling came after prosecutors argued Watson should remain in custody without bail for committing a “violent, unprovoked attack on a vulnerable victim incapable of protecting himself from harm.”

The Jan. 28 incident was captured on surveillance video that has since been widely shared on social media and made national news amid concerns about rising anti-Asian sentiment during the pandemic and other attacks against Asian American elders.

Ratanapakdee, who was originally from Thailand, was on his morning walk when authorities say Watson charged at him from across the street near Anzavista and Fortuna avenues at around 8:28 a.m.

“The video shows that the elderly man had no opportunity to protect himself,” Assistant District Attorney Sean Connolly wrote in a motion seeking to detain Watson. “There was no evidence depicted that the elderly man did anything to provoke the attack.”

Prosecutors have not alleged a motive for the killing, but Watson has not been charged with a hate crime.

Watson was “apparently vandalizing a car” when Ratanapakdee looked toward him and changed directions on his walk, Connolly said in his detention motion, citing surveillance footage from the scene.

The teenager then sprinted “full speed” at Ratanapakdee an instant after the elderly man looked back at him, according to the motion. Ratanapakdee was sent flying backward and landed onto the pavement.

A witness told police they heard a voice yell “Why you lookin’ at me?” twice before hearing the apparent impact, prosecutors said.

Sliman Nawabi, a deputy public defender representing Watson, disputed the perception that the attack was racially motivated.

“There is absolutely zero evidence that Mr. Ratanapakdee’s ethnicity and age was a motivating factor in being assaulted,” Nawabi said. “This unfortunate assault has to do with a break in the mental health of a teenager. Any other narrative is false, misleading, and divisive.”

Nawabi said Watson comes from a biracial family that includes Asians and had “no knowledge of Mr. Ratanapakdee’s race or vulnerabilities” since the elderly man was wearing a mask, hat, sweater and jeans.

Still, Nawabi said he condemned anti-Asian attacks and empathized with anger over them.

It’s unclear why Watson may have been in the area that morning. Police arrested him in Daly City after running the plate on a silver BMW he and a woman left at the scene.

Watson had been cited by police for reckless driving, speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign following a collision involving the BMW earlier that day.

Body-worn camera footage from the encounter helped investigators link Watson to the incident.

Police also arrested a woman in connection with the case, but District Attorney Chesa Boudin has said she was seated in the car and played no apparent role in the attack.

Watson is facing up to life in prison. He previously pleaded not guilty to murder and elder abuse, and is due back in court March 4.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsCrimesan francisco news

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes to The City's streets including Slow Streets closures to increase open space access and the Shared Spaces program, which allows businesses to use public right-of-ways for dining, retail and services. (Examiner illustration)
COVID is reshaping the streets of San Francisco

Walk down Page Street, which is closed to thru-traffic, and you might… Continue reading

At a rally in February, Monthanus Ratanapakdee, left, and Eric Lawson remember Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man who died after he was pushed to the pavement in San Francisco. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Examiner file photo)
The criminal justice system can’t fix what’s wrong in our community

My 87-year-old mother walks gingerly, slowly, deliberately, one step in front of… Continue reading

Superintendent Vincent Matthews said some students and families who want to return will not be able to do so at this time. “We truly wish we could reopen schools for everyone,” he said. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD sets April reopening date after reaching tentative agreement with teachers union

San Francisco Unified School District has set April 12 as its reopening… Continue reading

José Victor Luna and Maria Anabella Ochoa, who cite health reasons for continuing distance learning, say they have been enjoying walking in Golden Gate Park with their daughters Jazmin, a first grader, and Jessica, a third grader. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Some SFUSD families prefer distance learning

Health issues, classroom uncertainties among reasons for staying home

Most Read