San Francisco Officials Try to Shake Soft-on-Crime Image After Violent Attacks

The city’s mayor, police chief and district attorney emphasized a commitment to prosecuting violent crimes after two deadly attacks on senior citizens last week.

This screenshot from a home security camera shows the moment a man knocked 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee of San Francisco to the ground in a seemingly unprovoked and senseless attack. Ratanapakdee died of injuries sustained in the attack several days later.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Following shockingly brutal attacks that left two elderly men dead last week, San Francisco officials on Tuesday sought to dispel perceptions that the city is soft on crime under the administration of a progressive, reform-minded district attorney.

“If you commit a crime in San Francisco and hurt people, you will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Mayor London Breed said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. “That is a commitment I have from our police chief and district attorney.”

On Jan. 28, two elderly men were fatally injured in seemingly unprovoked attacks. At around 8:30 a.m., a man darted across the street in the city’s Anza Vista neighborhood and forcefully pushed 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee down on the pavement in a disturbing scene caught on video.

Ratanapakdee, a native of Thailand, died in the hospital two days later. His family told Fox affiliate KTVU he was a “gentle person who loved his family” and that they believe the attack was racially motivated.

Officers arrested Antoine Watson, 19, and his female companion Maylasia Goo, 20, both of Daly City. Goo is suspected of being an accessory to the assault.

Several hours later that day, legendary private detective Jack Palladino, 76, was attacked by two men who reached out from a gold Acura and tried to steal his high-end camera outside his home in Haight-Ashbury. Palladino refused to let go of the camera and a tug-of-war ensued. The 76-year-old fell during the struggle and hit his head on the pavement. He died in the hospital four days later.

Two suspects — Lawrence Thomas, 24, of Pittsburg and Tyjone Flournoy, 23, of San Francisco — were arrested last weekend. They are charged with attempted robbery, kidnapping to commit a robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, elder abuse and false imprisonment.

Palladino reportedly helped solve his own case by taking photos of the suspects’ vehicle before he was attacked. In a career spanning five decades, Palladino worked for many famous clients including Bill Clinton, Courtney Love, R. Kelly, the Black Panthers and Hells Angels. He once recaptured a truckload of stolen gear for the Grateful Dead, and he spent years investigating the 1978 Jonestown cult mass suicide in Guyana, according to The Associated Press.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced Tuesday that he expects to file murder charges against Thomas and Flournoy once findings are issued on Palladino’s cause of death. The DA said he will also file charges against Ratanapakdee’s attacker, Watson, for murder and elder abuse. Boudin will ask the court to deny bail and keep all three defendants in jail pending trial, he said.

“San Francisco will not tolerate violence,” Boudin said. “We will not tolerate preying on the elderly.”

Boudin said he knows recent events have made people, especially seniors and members of the Asian American/Pacific Islander community, feel unsafe. He assured residents that prosecuting violent crime remains his administration’s top priority.

The district attorney, who ran on a platform of ending mass incarceration and boosting programs that divert some defendants into treatment rather than prosecution, came under fire earlier this month after a parolee allegedly killed two female pedestrians on New Year’s Eve while driving under the influence of methamphetamine and alcohol. The suspect, Troy McCallister, 45, had been arrested several times since his release on parole last year but was never prosecuted. Boudin initially blamed state parole officials for the lapse but later committed to “working internally in our own office and along with our justice partners to make changes to prevent this kind of tragedy.”

San Francisco Police Chief William “Bill” Scott on Tuesday issued a warning to anyone who thinks the city is averse to punishing criminals.

“For anybody who thinks that San Francisco is an easy touch, you need to think twice,” Scott said. “Anybody who thinks they can attack elderly individuals in our city, you need to think twice.”

Chief Scott added that the police department is working aggressively to fight drug trafficking, especially in the Tenderloin neighborhood where a partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office has resulted in more than 150 arrests since August 2019. The city had its highest rate of overdose deaths last year with 699 fatal overdoses, more than three times the number of Covid-19 deaths and a 59% increase from 2019.

Also on Tuesday, Breed was asked about perceptions of a declining quality of life in San Francisco due to a recent uptick in violent crime and the city’s continuing struggles with a growing homeless population and drug overdose epidemic.

Breed touted the city’s pandemic response, noting that its handling of the public health crisis has been a “national model for other cities to follow.” San Francisco has one of the lowest death rates in the country despite being one of the most densely packed cities, she said.

Breed added that San Francisco faces many vexing challenges like any other city, but she is confident residents and tourists will return to the city once the pandemic has subsided.

“People are going to want to go back to cities and San Francisco will be at the top of the list,” Breed said.

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