The man accused of attacking a woman outside her Embarcadero apartment early Sunday morning, supposedly to save her from robots taking over the world, has been released pending his trial next month.
Austin James Vincent, a 25-year-old man with no local address, was arrested shortly after the incident outside 501 Beale St. and booked into San Francisco County Jail on charges of false imprisonment, two counts of battery and attempted robbery.
The attack was caught on the Watermark condominium security video and shows an assailant grabbing 26-year old Paneez Kosarian outside the door of the building’s lobby and throwing her to the ground. As she fights her way inside to the lobby, the assailant pulls her back outside. The lobby attendant helps Kosarian get inside the lobby and both women struggle to keep the assailant from entering.
The attack occurred at about 1:40 a.m. Sunday, and Vincent was picked up by police a short time later. He was arraigned on Monday and entered a plea of not guilty.
Prosecutors expressed concerns about Vincent’s release on Wednesday, but Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken, a former deputy city attorney appointed to the bench last year by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, released him.
“Ultimately, the court released him on assertive case management,” said district attorney spokesman Maxwell Szabo. That means he will have to check in with a case manager on a regular basis, though Szabo didn’t know how frequently that would be.
“We don’t have the authority to determine who stays in (jail) and who gets out pretrial,” Szabo said. “We make recommendations to the court, and the court ultimately has that authority.”
Szabo said a stay-away order had been issued to keep Vincent from the woman.
Vincent’s attorney, Saleem Belbahri of the public defender’s office, said, “The court determined that Mr. Vincent was not a threat to public safety, and he was released under restrictive conditions that require him to report to Assertive Case Management, which can assess his mental health needs and assist him in navigating the complex legal process ahead.”
Kosarian said she got a call from the district attorney’s office Wednesday telling her the defendant had been released pending his court appearance on Sept. 12.
LISTEN: “What else does the city need to see for proof to know that this man is a danger to all of us?” The victim of an attack caught on camera in #SanFrancisco reacts to the news her attacker has been released from police custody. @AmberKTVU will have more at 10p on @KTVU pic.twitter.com/s27gPD8Dp3
— Anna Trinidad (@ATrinKTVU) August 15, 2019
“That is one month of this man walking and roaming the streets while I’m imprisoned in my own house — too scared to leave,” Kosarian said.
Kosarian said Vincent appeared to be on drugs or mentally ill when he blocked her entrance to the Watermark building.
“What is to prevent him from getting high again, lose his mind and attack someone else?” Kosarian said.
She said Vincent kept saying that the world was full of robots.
“He had apparently been standing there for 20 minutes, but did not bother any of the males who passed. When he saw me, he saw his target,” Kosarian said.
“He kept saying he wanted to help, saying that the lady in our lobby was a robot and that everyone else was a robot,” Kosarian said.
Kosarian said Vincent asked her repeatedly, “How can I earn your trust?”
Vincent then said he would kill the female lobby attendant, “So I can earn your trust,” Kosarian said. Then he attacked her, she said.
“The only thing I was thinking is that I’m alone and need to save myself,” said Kosarian.
As Kosarian struggled with her attacker, the lobby attendant came running to open the door, while at the same time dialing 911.
Kosarian fought back repeatedly and was able to enter the lobby as the attendant struggled to close the door on the attacker.
She was pulled back out, but managed to free herself again and run into the lobby.
The video was circulated among neighborhood residents by opponents of the planned Navigation Center on the Embarcadero. City supervisors approved the center, which will offer beds and services to homeless people. Opponents argue that it will increase the number of street people and crime in the neighborhood.
Safe Embarcadero for All issued a statement about the attack that said: “The City of San Francisco’s Homelessness and Supportive Housing is unable to cope with the current overwhelming number of mentally ill and drug-addicted people on our streets. This is an issue of the safety of our residents, our neighborhood, our City. Yet, the elected leadership of San Francisco has turned a blind eye to our safety.”
Mayor London Breed called the attack “a terrible incident” and said “it’s important that people are held accountable for any act of violence.”
Breed added that “the SAFE Navigation Center on the Embarcadero has not opened yet and is still under construction. When it does open, it will provide shelter and services for people living on our streets. In general, we know the data shows there is no link between the creation of a Navigation Center and an increase in crime in the surrounding area.”
Phil Matier and Erin Allday are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Twitter: @philmatier @erinallday
An earlier version of this story misstated Paneez Kosarian’s age.
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