The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office released a statement on Thursday refuting claims charged in a recent lawsuit that involved the DA’s office lowering a racially-charged beating of an elderly man from a felony to a misdemeanor.
On Tuesday, the Alliance for Asian American Justice and Anh Lê sued the DA’s office for not allowing Le, the victim, to be a part of the case, refusing to prosecute the two assailants without informing Le, lowering their battery, felony elder abuse, and felony domestic terrorism threat charges to misdemeanors, and instead giving each assailant only one year probation.
“Although he was arrested for felony terroristic threats, felony elder abuse and battery because of the way my case has been handled by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office justice has not been served,” said Lê on Tuesday. “I am a survivor of a horrendous attack that took place in San Francisco with no consequences to my attackers.”
However, on Thursday, the DA’s office painted a different picture of the events. Instead of the violent beating claimed by Lê, the DA’s office claims that Lê had instead gotten his bike knocked over by the adult assailant, who uses a wheelchair. When Lê confronted them about taking up space on the sidewalk, the assailant’s young son simply swung a plastic bat at Lê while the assailant himself made threats while holding a bottle.
SFPD officers were soon called to the scene and arrested the two, but because of the details of the case, interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus pled down to the probation, as well as a stay-away order, as they did not want to follow what Le wanted and send the adult assailant to state prison and his child to be prosecuted. As for Lê not being there, the District Attorney’s office claims to have contacted him several times about appearing over the phone, e-mail, and mail.
“In his lawsuit, Mr. Lê falsely asserted that our office settled the case without consulting him or receiving any input from him. This is not accurate,” said the DA’s press release on Thursday. “Mr. Lê and the advocate communicated many times, but for a period of weeks, Mr. Lê did not respond to repeated messages from the advocate. The advocate also specifically reached out to Mr. Lê before the case resolved and indicated that the case might resolve and that the assigned prosecutor wanted to discuss the potential resolution with him. Mr. Lê did not respond to repeated efforts to reach him about the potential resolution. Nonetheless, following the case resolution, the advocate again reached out to Mr. Lê to inform him of the resolution and express a desire to talk to him about it.”
Victim’s account, DA’s account radically differs
Chief of Victim Services Division Kasie Lee specifically noted how the DA’s office wanted to remain sensitive to the Asian American community but needed to bring the facts out in the case.
“Given the lawsuit’s significant mischaracterizations of the events in this case — which have understandably led many community members to be upset and undermines the trust between crime victims and their advocates — we believe it is important to share correct information about the underlying case and explain the work of our office and our victim advocate in this case,” added Lee. “We also want to provide reassurance to victims that they will receive comprehensive services when working with our advocates. We will continue to do everything we can to support victims.”
Despite the press release on Thursday, many Asian American community activists continued to side with Le on Thursday, with many noting that attacks in the area more align with what Lê has said rather than what the DA presented.
“In a ‘he said, she said’ sort of case like this, a lot of people here are remembering back to attacks they witnessed against Asian Americans in the past few years,” explained Sarah Tan, an Asian American neighborhood watch leader to the Globe on Friday. “And what we have seen are violent attacks and confrontations. It’s not to say that the DA’s version is wrong. It’s just that, based on cases around here and what people have seen, what Lê said is familiar to many.”
“And look, same day, the SFPD announced that Asian hate crimes have shot up 567%. And look what else is happening, with crime going up all over the city. Both crimes against Asians and crime in general going up actually forced us to create a neighborhood watch here. The DA denying that the attack on Lê had been significant and not a hate crime seems to many like the DA not acknowledging that all this is going on. How can we trust that the DA saying that this wasn’t a big crime when we see so many each week?”
The lawsuit against the DA is expected to be heard in the near future.