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Attack on elderly Asian woman in San Francisco not motivated by racism, lawyer says

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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – Recently released surveillance video shows a beating suspect himself was assaulted moments before he attacked an elderly Asian woman in San Francisco, hitting her if strong that she temporarily couldn’t see with one eye.

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Xiao Zhen Xie, seen immediately after being attacked on Market Street in San Francisco

“I think the most important goal right now is to let the public know that this was not racist, it was not a hate crime,” said Deputy San Francisco Public Defender Eric McBurney.

His office, which posted the video, shows Steven Jenkins, 39, in a physical altercation with at least three different people, including a man following Jenkins.

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The video shows Jenkins walking away from the man towards a street corner where 76-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie was standing near a traffic light.

Jenkins appears to throw something at her attacker, then a few seconds later hits Xie in the face. The aftermath of Xie’s attack went viral and was captured by KPIX athletic director Dennis O’Donnell, who was walking the area.

Xiao Zhen Xie (holding the stick) approaches Steven Jenkins (being held by a security guard). (Photo via the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office)

Xie is seen in the surveillance video picking up a large wooden stick and punching Jenkins in the legs after a security guard pinned him to the ground.

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Jenkins is also accused of beating Ngoc Pham, 83, which was not seen in surveillance video released Thursday.

McBurney said they are investigating whether Jenkins’ actions were intentional, willful, or whether he mistook Xie and Pham for his attackers.

He said Jenkins suffered from mental health issues and was homeless.

“This does not take away from the tragedy of what happened to Ms. Xiao and Mr. Pham, but it is the other message, it is a tragedy and there are three victims of assault,” said McBurney. “Everyone is now wearing masks, including their attackers and including Ms. Xiao and Mr. Pham. My argument is that at this point he is dizzy and concussed.

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Legal analyst and former prosecutor Steven Clark, who watched the surveillance video, said that while it shows a chaotic scene, it does not justify Jenkins’ actions.

“What a prosecutor will watch in this video is that the only people this gentleman attacked were two elderly Asians and they were helpless and had nothing to do with his initial altercation. The prosecutor will point out that this is the essence of a hate crime, ”Clark said. “He could have hit a lot of people in that square because he was angry, but he picked these two older Asians. This is going to be a very big problem for the public defender.


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