SF man, 18, pleads not guilty in brutal beating of 88-year-old woman

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Kao, who is prosecuting the case, speaks with family and supporters of an 88-year-old woman beaten in Visitacion Valley at the Hall of Justice on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 (Michael Barba/SF Examiner)

The suspect in a crime spree that began with the brutal beating of an 88-year-old woman in Visitacion Valley pleaded not guilty on Monday to various charges including attempted murder.

Keonte Gathron, 18, is facing 16 counts in connection with three robberies earlier this month including the beating of the elderly grandmother found suffering from severe head wounds at a playground across from her house.

Gathron, a San Francisco resident with a juvenile arrest record, walked into court in the morning in shackles as family members and supporters of Yik Oi Huang watched from the gallery.

Deputy Public Defender Michelle Tong was assigned to the case. Tong, who told the judge she has had only four minutes to talk with Gathron since his Jan. 19 arrest, left the courtroom without commenting to reporters.

The brutal nature of the case has prompted calls from Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee and Supervisor Shamann Walton for increased policing and security cameras in the area.

“Hopefully they will bring much needed resources to Visitacion Valley,” said Sassana Yee, the granddaughter of the elderly victim. “Our family wants this tragic incident to [be] an opportunity to address community safety both in the immediate and the long term.”

Sassana Yee told reporters outside the courtroom that the arrest in the case has brought some relief for the family.

“This has been a very trying time for our family as our beloved grandmother remains in critical but stable condition,” she said.

Marlene Tran, a longtime Visitacion Valley community advocate, echoed calls for police to respond to the incident by assigning officers to a new substation in the neighborhood or parking a mobile command unit there like the one warding off drug dealers in United Nations Plaza.

“It takes this kind of brutality to help us,” Tran told the San Francisco Examiner. “I’m very hopeful that the supervisors the police chief and so on will really keep all their promises.”

Police Chief Bill Scott said at a press conference last Wednesday on the arrest that he would consider moving a mobile-command unit to the area, but that he has to balance police resources throughout The City.

“Nothing is off the table and nothing should be permanent in policing,” Scott said. “We have to move our resources around, and that’s the key.”

Prosecutors say Gathron beat Huang with her own cane early Jan. 9 before throwing the weapon onto a nearby rooftop. Gathron then allegedly stole her keys and entered her home on Visitacion Avenue between Cora and Delta streets.

A witness saw the suspect exiting the upper-unit home and called police.

Huang was later found lying unconscious in the sandbox at the park across the street. She suffered a skull fracture, brain bleeding and numerous facial fractures, according to prosecutors.

Then on the morning of Jan. 16, Gathron allegedly carjacked a Jeep Cherokee at gunpoint from a nearby gas station at Sawyer Street and Visitacion Avenue. Police found the Jeep parked at another gas station later the same day and recovered surveillance footage of the suspect.

Though police and prosecutors have identified him as a suspect in the case, Gathron has not been charged in connection with the carjacking.

On Jan. 19, Gathron is accused of robbing 14- and 16-year-old girls of their cellphones at gunpoint while riding a red bicycle in two seperate robberies in The City. In the latter incident, prosecutors say he also punched the girl.

Police tracked the second phone to Crocker Amazon Park where Gathron allegedly ran away. Police then followed the iPhone to Heritage and Schwering streets, where officers found Gathron hiding in a minivan.

Gathron was in custody in connection with the cellphone robberies when police say DNA evidence from a glove recovered at the Visitacion Valley playground linked him to the beating.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday to set a date for a preliminary hearing in the case, when a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence for Gathron to stand trial. The last date for the preliminary hearing to be scheduled in Feb. 20.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Kao, who is prosecuting the case, speaks with family and supporters of an 88-year-old woman beaten in Visitacion Valley at the Hall of Justice on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 (Michael Barba/SF Examiner)

This story has been updated.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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