A video of an attack at a waterfront condo complex has been used by some residents as support for their campaign against plans for a homeless shelter nearby. (Courtesy image) A video of an attack at a waterfront condo complex has been used by some residents as support for their campaign against plans for a homeless shelter nearby. (Courtesy image)

Suspect in high-profile waterfront attack ordered to stand trial

Judge adds charge against Austin James Vincent for alleged criminal threats

A San Francisco judge ordered a man to stand trial Tuesday for allegedly grabbing a woman as she tried to enter her home near the Embarcadero in a high-profile attack that was captured on surveillance video.

Austin James Vincent, a 25-year-old homeless man, will be held to answer on various charges including false imprisonment, battery and attempted residential burglary in connection with the waterfront attack on Aug. 11.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa Caffese made the ruling after the victim, 27-year-old Paneez Kosarian, delivered emotional testimony in which she said Vincent told her he was trying to save her life from robots.

“He was saying that everyone else is a robot and that I’m the only human remaining and that he was trying to save my life and that he was trying to kill the front desk lady,” Kosarian said in court Tuesday morning.

The case grabbed headlines for touching on issues around homelessness, mental illness and the criminal justice system after a video of Kosarian struggling to get away from her assailant made the rounds on social media.

The attack also happened to occur next door to the site of where a hotly contested homeless shelter is being built. Kosarian has since joined forces with a neighborhood group calling for construction to be halted over the incident.

On Tuesday, Kosarian testified that she was walking home to her apartment in the Watermark condominium building at 501 Beale St. at around 1:30 a.m. when she saw Vincent standing outside the lobby.

During a confrontation that lasted five to six minutes, Kosarian said Vincent told her she had to let him in the building because the receptionist at the front desk was a robot who he wanted to hurt.

“He said, ‘What can I do to earn your trust? I’ll kill anyone, I’ll kill the robot to earn your trust,’” Kosarian testified.

Vincent allegedly grabbed Kosarian when she tried to push through the front door. During the struggle that ensued, she said Vincent grabbed her wrist, ribs and leg before she could crawl to safety inside the lobby.

“He wanted to take me with him,” Kosarian said. “He said ‘let me save your life.’”

In court, Assistant District Attorney Melody Bahai played audio of several 911 calls that the receptionist made to police before and after the attack. Vincent had allegedly been standing outside the lobby shouting at her before Kosarian arrived. In the last call, screaming and crying is heard in the background.

“He attacked the lady, can you please come,” the receptionist said on the 911 call. “He grabbed her, threw her on the ground… I called like four times already!”

Police arrested Vincent after arriving at the scene.

Vincent was initially released from jail into a supervised program by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken, but she remanded him into custody after prosecutors charged him in connection with a different case.

Prosecutors later dropped those additional charges for the second attack after defense attorneys showed that Vincent was in Southern California at the time it occurred. He had been misidentified as the assailant after multiple people who saw his mugshot in the news called the police.

Despite the second round of charges being dropped, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ross Moody declined to release Vincent from jail on Aug. 29.

Vincent has since been held on battery, false imprisonment and attempted robbery charges for allegedly attacking Kosarian.

During the preliminary hearing Tuesday, Caffese found there was sufficient evidence to hold Vincent on battery and false imprisonment. The judge dropped the attempted robbery charge but held Vincent on additional charges of attempted residential burglary and criminal threats against the receptionist.

Rather than believe Vincent was attempting to steal Kosarian’s phone as prosecutors alleged, the judge said the evidence thus far showed Vincent intended to get inside the building.

Saleem Belbahri, a defense attorney for Vincent from the Public Defender’s Office, argued that Vincent intended to save Kosarian as he told her he did.

“We are relieved that the judge agreed there was no attempted robbery,” said Valerie Ibarra, a spokesperson for the Public Defender’s Office. “We’re going to continue to litigate the rest of the case.”

The case is due back in court Oct. 1.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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