Steven Jenkins is the man accused of assaulting two elderly Asian people within minutes of each other in San Francisco. The attacks occurred around 10 a.m. on March 17 near the United Nations Plaza.
Jenkins faces six charges, including two counts of elder abuse, according to a news release Heavy received via email from the San Francisco Police Department and records on the San Francisco County Jail website.
Police ask anyone with information about either assault to call the SFPD Tip Line at 1-415-575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jenkins Was Booked Into Jail Hours After the Assaults & Has Since Been Denied Bail
After law enforcement responded to the scene, Jenkins was taken to the hospital due to an “unrelated, prior medical condition,” the San Francisco Police Department explained. He was released from the hospital a few hours later and booked into the San Francisco County Jail.
Inmate records show Jenkins was formally booked into custody at 4:31 p.m. on March 17 and bond was initially set at $50,000. The judge has since denied Jenkins bail. A court date was scheduled for March 30.
The police department did not make Jenkins’ mugshot available to the public. The department made a policy change in mid-2020 mandating that mugshots would be made public only when doing so would help the police locate a suspect not yet in custody, as explained in a July 2020 news release.
2. Jenkins’ Attorney Says He Believes Jenkins, Who Is Homeless, Is Struggling With a Mental Illness
Jenkins is homeless and the judge overseeing his case ordered a psychological assessment, NBC Bay Area reported. The public defender representing Jenkins, Eric McBurney, told the outlet he believes Jenkins’ actions can be attributed to a mental illness. “I don’t know what happened, but I have an idea that Mr. Jenkins is struggling,” McBurney said.
Jenkins is now facing six charges, according to inmate information listed on the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department website. He faces two charges apiece for battery with serious bodily injury, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and inflicting injury on elder or dependent adult likely to cause great bodily injury.
According to the California legal code, a conviction for elder abuse carries a possible punishment of up to four years in state prison and/or a fine of up to $6,000. The California legislature described the charge and its consequences:
A person who knows or reasonably should know that a person is an elder or dependent adult and who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any elder or dependent adult, willfully causes or permits the person or health of the elder or dependent adult to be injured, or willfully causes or permits the elder or dependent adult to be placed in a situation in which his or her person or health is endangered, is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine not to exceed six thousand dollars ($6,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.
The other two counts Jenkins faces, “assault likely to produce great bodily injury,” also carry potential prison time:
Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.
3. Jenkins Ran From a Security Guard After Assaulting an Elderly Asian Man, Police Say
San Francisco Police officers responded to the area of Market and 7th Street on March 17 around 10:10 a.m. after receiving a call about an aggravated assault, a police spokesperson confirmed with Heavy via email.
Police explained that the suspect, now identified as Jenkins, had initially been “involved in a physical altercation in U.N. Plaza approximately 30 minutes before the incident.” Police said Jenkins later “approached the male victim and assaulted him.” The victim was identified as an 83-year-old man of Asian descent.
Jenkins fled the scene on foot. Police said a local security guard was alerted to the situation and chased after Jenkins. As Jenkins was running away, police said he attacked an elderly woman who had been standing at the intersection of Market Street and Charles J. Brenham Place waiting to cross the street.
KTVU-TV, citing police, reported that the security guard detained Jenkins after the attacks until officers caught up. But Jenkins was also held up by the second victim, according to witnesses at the scene.
The first victim has since been identified online as Ngoc Pham. According to an online fundraiser launched on his behalf, Pham was shopping at the United Nations Farmers’ Market when he was assaulted. He suffered fractures in his neck and cuts and bruises on his head. The GoFundMe campaign for him has raised more than $285,000.
A message from Pham was shared on the campaign page on March 20: “I sincerely appreciate your donations, support, care and love on GoFundMe. I survived concentration camp for 17-years in Vietnam right after the war, and I am going to get through this attack. I truly thank the medical response staff, nurses, and doctors at General Hospital.”
4. The Second Victim Fought Back With a Wooden Paddle & Sent the Attacker to the Hospital
Xiao Zhen Xie was leaning against a utility pole waiting for the traffic light to change when she said she was suddenly attacked. She told CBS station KPIX-TV she didn’t know the man and that he punched her seemingly out of nowhere. She said there was no provocation.
But Xie fought back. With her adult daughter serving as a translator, Xie told the TV station that she picked up a stick and hit the man with it. Witnesses told KPIX-TV Xie was “pummeling” the suspect after he had hit her. Based on a video from the scene, Xie had picked up what look to be either a wooden board or paddle.
KPIX Sports Director Dennis O’Donnell was among the witnesses during the aftermath. He shot footage of Xie as she held an ice pack to her face and waved the board with one hand. She was clearly very upset as she explained to the crowd in Chinese that the man had hit her and called him a bully and a bum, KPIX-TV reported. O’Donnell added, “From what I could see, she wanted more of the guy on the stretcher and the police were holding her back.”
O’Donnell’s video showed the suspect lying on a stretcher as paramedics prepared to take him to a hospital. His face had been blooded and he was holding his left arm at an odd angle. His right hand was handcuffed to the gurney. Police told Heavy via email that the suspect was taken to the hospital because of an “unrelated, prior medical condition.”
Xie’s family told KPIX-TV she was treated at a local hospital. She suffered two black eyes, one of which continued to bleed. Her daughter described Xie as “dizzy, very scared, and traumatized and very hurt” after the attack. A GoFundMe campaign launched by Xie’s grandson to help pay for medical expenses has raised more than $936,000.
Xie plans to donate the contributions “back to the Asian American community to combat racism,” her grandson wrote on March 23. He went on, “She insists on making this decision saying this issue is bigger than Her. This is my grandma, grandpa, and our family’s decision.” He added that Xie was in “better spirits” and was healing from her injuries.
5. Police Said Both Attacks Were Unprovoked & They’re Investigating Whether Racial Bias Was a Factor
Xie told KPIX-TV the attack came out of nowhere. According to the San Francisco Police Department, investigators believe the attack on her, as well as the assault on the 83-year-old man, were unprovoked.
As of this writing, the police had not yet determined whether Jenkins could potentially face hate crime charges. In the announcement about Jenkins’ arrest, police noted that “investigators are working to determine if racial bias was a motivating factor in the incident.”
Heavy followed up with the department’s public information officer to ask about a possible motive. We also asked whether Jenkins had been arrested by the San Francisco Police Department in the past; this post will be updated once we hear back.
Violence against people of Asian descent has increased since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, according to Stop AAPI Hate. The group was founded to track and respond to “incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning, and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.”
According to a national report published earlier in March, Stop AAPI Hate received nearly 3,800 reports of “hate incidents” between March 19, 2020, to February 28, 2021. More than 1,600 of these instances occurred in California.
A significant majority of reported incidents involved verbal harassment, according to the report. About 11% of the reports involved physical assault. Another 7% involved cases where victims were coughed or spat on.
Stop AAPI Hate also found that 68% of the victims were women. The group also cited a survey the Pew Research Center published in July 2020, which found that “three-in-ten Asian adults (31%) say they have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since” the coronavirus outbreak began.
In the hours after the assaults on the two elderly Asian victims, the San Franciso PD announced that it would be increasing patrols in predominantly Asian neighborhoods in an attempt to combat the “alarming spike in brazen anti-Asian violence in recent weeks.”