There was some bizarre hot-potato action at the Hall of Justice Thursday morning as a herd of reporters followed along as a hearing in the case of Austin Vincent got bounced to three different courtrooms in less than an hour.
No judge seemed to want to deal with the case of the mentally ill 25-year-old homeless man after it turned into huge news two weeks ago and led to public outcry over one judge's decision to release him from jail. But as KPIX reports, Judge Ross C. Moody ordered Vincent to remain in jail, despite a second set of charges that landed him back there last week being dropped.
As reporter Wilson Walker tweeted, the 30-minute hearing concluded around 11 a.m., and included a replaying of the surveillance video taken from the lobby of the Watermark condo building where Vincent is shown attacking resident Paneez Kosarian as she tried to come through the front door on August 11. Judge Ross dismissed last week's charges stemming from a February incident in which a group of women apparently mis-identified Vincent as the man who threatened them with a knife near 4th and Brannan Streets — about four blocks from where the Watermark is. Deputy Public Defender Saleem Belbahri was able to successfully demonstrate last week that Vincent was in Southern California at the time of the February incident, and therefore could not be the suspect in that case.
Belbahri has continued to argue that Vincent belongs in what's called "assertive case management," in which he would receive mental health treatment outside of a jail environment.
Bizarrness unfolding at the Hall of Justice as the Austin Vincent case has now been bounced to its third courtroom in just under a hour. At issue: the dismissal of the 2nd charges and whether he remains in custody. pic.twitter.com/UUhmU1D2CT— Wilson Walker (@WilsonKPIX) August 29, 2019
Judge Ross said that, nonetheless, the "totality of circumstances" in the case did not suggest that Vincent could be counted on to return to court if he was released again with an ankle monitor into assertive case management.
Walker said that Vincent had an "outburst" following the judge's ruling, which was possibly directed at the prosecutor, and there was a loud bang heard as he exited the courtroom.
Vincent had what might to described as an ‘outburst’ on the way out of the courtroom. Said some things in objection to the judge’s decision (possibly also words directed at the prosecutor?) and there was a loud bang when he disappeared into the hallway.— Wilson Walker (@WilsonKPIX) August 29, 2019
Judge Christine Van Aken previously remanded Vincent to an assertive case management facility, and only later did so with a required ankle monitor after viewing the video below and saying she was "alarmed" by the violence she saw. She said she was not shown the video in Vincent's first hearing, although the District Attorney's Office insists Van Aken was made aware of the video in the police report.
Vincent's case became a flashpoint in San Francisco's ongoing debate about homelessness and the apparent lack of adequate treatment for the mentally ill and homeless. The Chronicle spoke to mental health advocates last week who said that this case, and the public outcry, have sent the wrong message about what should be done about the mentally ill on the streets.
"It’s very easy for the public to identify with a victim of this kind of behavior,” says Dr. Robert Okin, a psychiatrist and former chief of service at SF General’s Department of Psychiatry. "[People are] fed up with what looks like the city’s basic inaction, and we’re seeing the results of it." But he cautions that the real culprit here has been the systemic loss of mental health beds for the most severely ill patients, who are the most likely to act out and then end up in jail. It's a mistake Okin says, to assume that all mentally ill people are violent, or to think that jailing them is going to solve the larger problem.
Still, the DA's Office contends and the judge agreed today that the charges against Vincent in the assault of Kosarian are serious enough that he needs to be kept off the street. He will continue to receive treatment while behind bars, but experts say that such treatment is often much less effective in a jail environment.