SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A San Francisco judge and top city officials on Friday were trying to explain why video of woman being attacked in front of her building near the Embarcadero last weekend was not enough to keep the suspect locked up.
25-year-old Austin James Vincent was booked early Sunday morning for attacking San Francisco resident Paneez Kosarian outside the lobby of her condo building known as the Watermark.
The suddenly arranged hearing Friday felt a bit like a public hearing on what has become a very public case.
The judge — who has drawn criticism for her release of the suspect earlier this week — changed course a bit Friday and ordered Vincent to wear an ankle monitor. She also gave her account of how this all unfolded.
“Specifically I was in a restaurant on Wednesday night,” explained Judge Christine Van Aken. “At that restaurant the TV was playing and I saw what purported to be video of the incident involving Mr. Austin that brings rise to this complaint.”
That was the first big news out of the courtroom Friday: that when Judge Christine Van Aken made the decision to release Vincent, she had not seen the video clip shows so widely on Bay Area newscasts.
That video, she said, has changed her perspective.
“I was, frankly, alarmed by the level of violence I saw in the video,” the judge said. “They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. I am ordering that Mr. Vincent go to the Sheriff’s Department application of ankle monitoring.”
“It does make me feel a little better. It’s a very, very, very small victory,” said Paneez Kosarian, the woman attacked Sunday morning.
She said she’s relieved to see the court taking another look at the case but remains frustrated.
“Why wasn’t it [the video] shown? It’s such a big part of the evidence, such a big part of the proof point. If this is just one case, and because of the circumstances were getting into the details, than how many cases are just like that?” Kosarian asked, referencing the apparent lack of video evidence in the arraignment.
When pressed by the judge, prosecutors said they did not present the video in the first hearing, choosing instead to rely on the details in the police report.
“Obviously, not just due to the nature of the video, that is very public, but the nature of the charges,” said Max Szabo a spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. “The added request for the video now, I’ll let you draw your own conclusion as to whether that was ultimately necessary, given the severity of the charges that were filed.”
With that, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, Judge Van Aken’s former employer, spoke in her defense, admonishing her critics. Dennis Herrera, released a statement reading, in part: “…the rush to judgment here and the desire to pillory an outstanding officer of the court is unsettling. No one is more faithful to the facts and the law than Christine Van Aken. It’s disappointing that so many were quick to criticize her without knowing all of the facts.”
The hearing also provided a few new facts about Austin Vincent Friday. The judge said that this his only criminal history is a petty theft charge. He has been placed in housing since his release, and so far has complied with all of his court orders.
“At this point, we’re going to keep helping him, and he’s going to keep doing well,” said Saleem Belbahri, Vincent’s Public Defender. “He’s going to do great in the program.”
Still, Mayor London Breed reiterated her believe that Vincent should be in custody.
“We are not doing him any favors by letting him back out into the streets with no treatment, no help, no support,” she said. “It’s just gonna, unfortunately, happen again, and that’s part of the problem here.”
However, she chose not to directly criticize Van Aken.
“I’m not gonna comment on a specific person in this case,” she told reporters. “I just want to comment on the fact that we have a system that is not necessarily working for the purpose of addressing what we know is really one of the biggest challenges that we are dealing with — mental illness in San Francisco.”