Succumbing to herd mentality Judge orders Embarcadero attack suspect to jail

The alleged assailant in two incidents has become political fodder in San Francisco. The Judge, following an outcry from law enforcement and a portion of the population, has decided to put the suspect behind bars.  The Judge may be correct procedurally speaking. But there is also a belief that she bowed to the pressure in making her ruling.  

It is distressing that a candidate for District Attorney in the November 2019 election has jumped into the fray for what can charitably be described as political purposes.

San Francisco Examiner 8.20.2019

The San Francisco Superior Court judge who came under fire for releasing a man charged  in a widely publicized attack near the Embarcadero has had a change of heart.

Judge Christine Van Aken decided Tuesday that Austin James Vincent would beheld in custody pending trial after prosecutors filed new charges against him.

Vincent, a 25-year-old homeless man, is said to have been suffering a mental health crisis when he allegedly grabbed a woman outside her Embarcadero condo building Aug. 11.

Judge Van Aken I I 8.20.2019

News that Van Aken, the judge, had initially released Vincent, upset the rank-and-file police union. The San Francisco Police Officers Association issued a statement calling for her demotion to Traffic Court.

“Van Aken should not be allowed to preside over any criminal cases,” said Tony Montoya, president of SFPOA . “She may have been a reasonably competent civil attorney, but she’s a catastrophe of a criminal judge.”

Unlike Van Aken, the District Attorney’s Office has largely not been blamed for the release. Yet court transcripts obtained by KPIX may raise eyebrows.

The transcripts show that Chang, the prosecutor, did not articulate the evidence included in the police report or video of the Embarcadero assault to Van Aken when she decided to release Vincent last Tuesday.

Van Aken did, however, have a copy of the police report, and Chang told her that Vincent had a criminal history from New York including a petty theft and a misdemeanor conviction for menacing with a weapon.

“You can present the evidence in a way that’s more persuasive,” said Nancy Tung, a prosecutor who is running for district attorney.

Van Aken did, however, have a copy of the police report, and Chang told her that Vincent had a criminal history from New York including a petty theft and a misdemeanor conviction for menacing with a weapon.

“I’m not discounting the fact that defendant might be — might have been at a point of crisis, but there is enough evidence to show that he’s a public safety risk,” Chang said at the initial hearing, according to the transcripts.

Tung was at the most recent hearing to see whether Van Aken would decide torelease Vincent again.

“She should have detained him in the first place,” Tung said. “This was heropportunity to right that wrong and she made the right decision this time.”

But after a widely shared video of the attack surfaced and outrage mounted overher decision, she ordered Vincent to be placed on GPS monitoring Friday.

Van Aken said his concerns about public safety grew when police obtained a warrant for Vincent’s arrest Friday night in connection with a February assault in the South of Market.

Vincent surrendered to authorities Monday morning at the Hall of Justice.

On Tuesday, Van Aken said she was too concerned about public safety to release Vincent again after learning that the new allegations involved criminal threats and a knife.

“I take this very seriously,” Van Aken said.

Vincent shook his head in court as the judge decided to hold him in custody.

His attorney, Saleem Belbahri, had argued that Vincent should be let out because he was a “model client” in the treatment program Van Aken initially released him into.

“He’s been open to getting treatment,” Belbahri told the judge.

Belbahri told reporters outside the courtroom that he was disappointed in the decision.

“He was getting the help that he needed,” Belbahri said. “He was having the root causes of his issues being addressed and now he’s in jail where he’s not going to get help with those issues”

District Attorney Assistant Edward Chang had argued for Vincent’s detention.

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