(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Judge orders homeless man charged with Embarcadero attack to remain in custody

A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Thursday ordered a homeless man accused of attacking a woman outside her South Beach apartment complex earlier this month to remain in custody, but agreed to dismiss charges related to a second February incident.

The Aug. 11 attack outside of The Watermark building at 501 Beale St., which was caught on surveillance video, received widespread media coverage after Judge Christine Van Aken agreed to release Austin Vincent, 25, from custody on the condition that he enrolls in treatment and finds temporary housing.

However, after inadvertently seeing the video of the violent attack, Van Aken then ordered Vincent to wear an ankle monitor. Then, when a victim from a February attack identified Vincent as her assailant last week, he received new charges and Van Aken ordered him into custody in connection with those charges.

Earlier this week, however, Vincent’s attorney Deputy Public Defender Saleem Belbahri filed a motion to have the new assault and making criminal threats charges dismissed. In court on Thursday, Belbahri said Vincent couldn’t be the assailant in the February attack because at the time, he was at a facility in Huntington Beach in Southern California receiving substance abuse treatment.

In that case, a victim said a man had attacked her and her friends and threatened to kill her with a knife near Fourth and Brannan streets.

Because Van Aken was in trial, Judge Ross Moody heard the motion and agreed to dismiss those charges.

With the new charges gone, Belbahri sought to have Vincent released with the ankle monitor, arguing that because of his mental health issues, he wouldn’t be able to receive treatment in jail.

“This is a man who was at a point of crisis that night,” he said, referring to the Aug. 11 attack, in which he allegedly pushed, dragged and threatened to kill victim Paneez Kosarian.

Vincent has been charged with attempted robbery, false imprisonment and battery for the attack.

Assistant District Attorney Melody Bahai, who sought to keep Vincent in custody, called the attack “unprovoked and completely random.” Bahai then read a letter from Kosarian, in which she said although she wanted to be in court Thursday, she was still recovering from the attack and couldn’t “look her attacker in the eye.”

Kosarian, an immigrant from Iran, said because of the attack, she was afraid to leave her apartment and has nightmares.

“Now, I am scared and feel like I don’t have a voice. This city has abandoned me,” the letter read. “My life will never be the same.”

Moody cited a previous menacing charge involving a weapon from New York and remanded him into custody without bail.

In response to Belbahri’s argument that Vincent wouldn’t be able to receive mental health treatment in jail, Moody said, “You can do a lot of programming in jail. This is not some medieval system. This is San Francisco.”

Outside of court, Belbahri said, “I’m obviously disappointed by the court’s decision today. Jail is not the environment for people to receive the proper treatment that they need.”

Because The Watermark building is located next to the future site of the city’s SAFE Navigation Center, set to provide beds for as many 200 homeless residents, opponents of the center are using the case to renew their plea to stop it from opening.

Safe Embarcadero For All, a group made up of residents and business owners in the city’s South Beach neighborhood, last month filed a lawsuit against the city in Sacramento County Superior Court seeking to halt the opening. The group also is seeking a temporary restraining order and stay to keep the development from progressing while the suit is being litigated.

Outside of court, Wallace Lee, a Safe Embarcadero For All board member, said, “We’re happy that Mr. Vincent is in jail, being detained pending trial. We think that everyone in San Francisco who has seen the video knows Mr. Vincent poses a danger to the public and we’re glad that this judge has seen that.” Lee said, “But we’re still upset and disappointed that it took so long for this decision to come and it really highlights problems with the criminal justice system in San Francisco and the city’s inability to keep us safe.”

-Daniel Montes, Bay City News

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