Months before San Francisco police arrested Peter Rocha for allegedly killing a 94-year-old man in Glen Park, a neighbor had raised concerns about him “exhibiting signs of severe, irrational, paranoid and aggressive behavior.”
Rocha, a 53-year-old man who appeared to be homeless and mentally ill, was known for harassing or threatening women, children and the elderly. He was seen waving crutches at neighbors who walked by with their dogs, and apparently had numerous contacts with the police.
Glen Park resident Shawn Zovod flagged these issues for Supervisor Rafael Mandelman last December in a prescient email asking for help. She was walking her dog on Christmas Day when Rocha allegedly told her, “You need a beating. I am going to beat you up.”
“We would appreciate your support and coordination with the police and city services in resolving this situation before someone is seriously injured,” Zovod wrote, “particularly since this individual has shown a propensity for lashing out at the elderly and children.”
Her fears were realized on Memorial Day morning when Rocha allegedly attacked an elderly man on Elk Street who fell and struck his head. The victim, identified in the community as Leo Hainzl, later died at the hospital.
Now, Zovod says something should have been done to prevent the attack from happening. If not arrested for allegedly making threats, Rocha should have received “intensive mental health services,” Zovod argued.
“He should have been removed from the streets,” Zovod told the San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday. “He shouldn’t have been allowed to stay in our neighborhood or anywhere in The City because of his behavior.”
Rocha was arrested Monday when two sergeants patrolling near Diamond and Bosworth streets spotted a man matching the description of the suspect in the attack. He was booked into County Jail on suspicion of murder, assault with a deadly weapon and elder abuse.
On Wednesday, the District Attorney’s Office decided to file charges against Rocha for murder, two counts of assault and elder abuse. The office also plans to ask that he remain in custody without bail.
Mandelman, who represents the area on the Board of Supervisors, called the situation a “failure all around.” He has supported expanding the abilities of The City to force mentally ill people into treatment through conservatorship programs.
“The neighborhood has been sounding the alarm for some time,” said Mandelman. “The City has not found a way to effectively intervene.”
Zovod had seen police interacting with Rocha multiple times and was told by officers that he had declined offers for services. But a police spokesperson would not confirm any prior contacts or arrests involving Rocha.
When asked whether the Department of Public Health had provided services to Rocha through the Homeless Outreach Team or San Francisco General Hospital, a hospital spokesperson said, “due to patient privacy laws, we can’t comment on behavioral health patients.”
The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing also cited privacy laws in refusing to confirm or deny whether Rocha was a client.
Hainzl was a beloved member of the community who lived around the corner from the scene of the attack on Sussex Street. He often walked his dog and carried a walking stick.
“People are upset and horrified and really very sad,” Mandelman said.
“He was a good guy,” Zovod said. “A lot of the neighbors really miss him.”
“It was like a nightmare come true,” she said.
Rocha is expected to be arraigned as early as Thursday.