A teenager arrested in the death of an 84-year-old man who was knocked to the ground while on his morning walk in the Anza Vista neighborhood pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and elder abuse charges.
Antoine Watson, a 19-year-old resident of Daly City, made his first court appearance at the Hall of Justice after being taken into custody Saturday in what police have described as an “unprovoked” attack on Vicha Ratanapakdee.
Authorities say Watson rushed across a street and pushed Ratanapakdee to the ground near Anzavista and Fortuna avenues last Thursday at around 8:28 a.m, causing him to hit his head on the pavement and slide into a garage door. Ratanapakdee died Saturday as a result of his injuries after being taken to a hospital.
The incident is being seen as the latest in a number of high-profile attacks against Asian American seniors in San Francisco, including the beating of a Visitacion Valley grandmother in 2019 and an assault on a man collecting recyclables in the Bayview last year. It is also being viewed in light of the pandemic spurring anti-Asian sentiment, although police have said there is no evidence the attack was a hate crime.
Ratanapakdee was originally from Thailand, according to a GoFundMe page from his family. The fundraiser has collected more than $30,000 after surveillance video of the attack went viral on social media.
Watson was arrested Saturday night when police executed a search warrant on Lisbon Street between Hillside Boulevard and Chester Street in Daly City.
Sliman Nawabi, a deputy public defender representing Watson, said his client did not intend to kill Ratanapakdee, and challenged the District Attorney’s Office decision to charge Watson with murder.
“Based on what we see as an open-handed push, we will certainly be challenging whether there was any intent to kill,” Nawabi said. “There wasn’t. We will also be exploring any altered mental state that might help us understand why this happened.”
A judge is expected to decide next Monday whether to detain Watson pending trial.
“I understand there is a strong emotional reaction to this tragedy. However, it is important for us to keep an open mind to safeguard Mr. Watson’s right to due process and a fair trial,” Nawabi said. “Let us not forget Mr. Watson is only a teenager, 19 years old. He’s had no criminal convictions. He has his mother, father, nine brothers and sisters, and community standing beside him. We will work to show his innocence.”
Police also arrested a woman in connection with the attack on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact, but she was released and has not been charged. Prosecutors say there is no evidence she played a role in the crime. District Attorney Chesa Boudin said the woman was with Watson earlier that morning but seated in a car facing the other direction at the time of attack.
“We are continuing to investigate,”Boudin said Wednesday in a Facebook live event. “If we find any evidence that she was involved in the crime, then we will take appropriate action. But as things stand there is no such evidence and we are acting accordingly.”
Ratanapakdee was one of two elderly men who died after being attacked last Thursday in San Francisco. In the Haight, storied private detective Jack Palladino was gravely injured in a struggle over his camera and later died. Both men arrested in the Palladino case are expected to face murder charges.
Mayor London Breed joined Police Chief Bill Scott and Boudin for a virtual press conference Tuesday to condemn the recent violence.
“Violent crimes committed in our city will not be tolerated,” Breed said. “Safety is our top priority and we are not pointing the finger, we are here to work collaboratively to make sure that we keep people safe.”