A case involving a mentally ill man and a 15-year-old girl who says he stalked, grabbed, and generally terrified her one afternoon last year in West Portal is giving the Chronicle's Heather Knight more reason to rally critics of SF's criminal justice system, and focus anger toward one judge in particular.
The debate about criminal justice reform, and how justice gets meted out in San Francisco at a time of heightened agitation about crime in the city, is likely to go on for many years to come. But there have been multiple flashpoints since the pandemic began, some of which have been seized on by the media to question whether our progressive new district attorney, Chesa Boudin, is too soft on crime.
But Knight's latest column points a finger less at Boudin — though he does figure into the story — and more toward one judge who dismissed a case last month in a decision that has outraged the parents of one teen victim.
The incident in question happened on December 8, 2020, when 32-year-old Bill Gene Hobbs allegedly spotted the 15-year-old daughter of Blaise and Erin Zerega walking on the street in West Portal. Hobbs allegedly told the girl that she was his "angel" and "perfect mate," and after she ducked into an art supply store and came back out, he grabbed her by the arm and demanded she come with him. She struggled free, ducked into a nearby bookstore, and called her father for help.
Blaise Zerega arrived before police, and he says that Hobbs got in his face and said, "I'm going to fuck you up!" Zerega also noted to Knight that Hobbs has the word "E-V-I-L" tattooed across his fingers.
Due to various delays, a hearing in the case didn't happen until June 28, and the Zeregas received no notice that it was occurring. At that hearing, as they heard from an assistant district attorney after the fact, Judge Russell Roeca dismissed all charges against Hobbs "in the interest of justice."
Blaise Zerega has since written an angry letter to Roeca seeking an explanation, but has not received a reply.
Hobbs has been well known to the criminal justice system, and it seems that on the same day he stalked and grabbed Zerega's daughter, he attempted to climb into another woman's car in West Portal and creepily laid his head on the top of her car before she shooed him away. He also reportedly stripped off his clothes and chased a woman in Glen Canyon last November — and he's been charged variously with trespassing, false imprisonment, battery, and giving false information to police over the last four years, and all charges were similarly dropped. He is currently in jail in Ventura County on an auto theft warrant.
The 15-year-old tells Knight that she remains traumatized and is scared to walk down the street. "I’m just really angry, honestly. A man like this who molests a child should be in jail for that," she said.
But Knight points to the fact that Hobbs was charged with misdemeanor child molestation, instead of felony molestation — which the DA's office defends saying there was not evidence to support a felony charge — and the felony charge could have at least allowed them to compel Hobbs into mental health treatment.
In recent weeks, Boudin has tried to highlight moments when his office's hands are tied by the justice system itself, and the decisions of judges. In the case of one suspect in a random stabbing of an elderly woman last month, Daniel Cauich, Boudin said his office had tried to keep the suspect in custody following a previous burglary arrest, due to his lengthy record. But a judge free Cauich with an ankle monitor just weeks before the stabbing occurred.
Previously, after Cauich had served three years on a murder charge, a judge dismissed the charges against him and his brother — who were allegedly accomplices in a 2016 killing at 16th and Mission — on a technicality.