San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said today he is disappointed in a judge’s decision to dismiss felony hate crime allegations against two men accused of assaulting and robbing a transgender woman near San Francisco’s 16th Street BART station in April. Lionel Jackson, 32, and Maurice Perry, 37, are accused of attacking the woman on April 1 outside the BART station at Mission and 16th streets.
At a preliminary hearing that ended Wednesday, Judge Bruce Chan ordered Jackson and Perry to stand trial on charges of assault, second-degree robbery and violating the victim’s civil rights, but dismissed felony hate crime allegations against the pair. Gascon, speaking at a news conference today at the San Francisco Hall of Justice, said he is disappointed in the judge’s dismissal “despite a strong set of facts” about “an attack we believe was motivated by hate.”
Prosecutors said Jackson and Perry allegedly took the woman’s smartphone, and when she demanded it back, the pair allegedly punched her, knocking her to the ground and yelling epithets at her. Alexandra Byerly, who was passing out condoms nearby as part of an HIV prevention campaign, testified at the preliminary hearing Monday that as the suspects were running away, one of them said, “Oh, I hate men dressed up as women.” The two men were arrested shortly after attack, which left the woman hospitalized.
Gascon and Victor Hwang, the prosecutor in the case, said the district attorney’s office plans to re-file the hate crime charge when the case goes to trial. Hwang said he disagrees with the judge’s decision on the hate crime allegations, especially since the judge ordered the pair to stand trial on the civil rights violation, and the two charges “share the identical elements as to a biased motive.” Chan had ruled that the primary motive for the attack was financial because it had started as a robbery, Hwang said.
The felony hate crime allegation can add up to three years in state prison to a sentence, while the misdemeanor civil rights violation can only add up to a year in county jail, Hwang said. Clair Farley of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center said, “This ruling is troubling because it makes all of us feel as though we will not have the same protections and safeties we need if violence happens to us.” Gascon said, “If we’re serious about being a community of tolerance and a community of equality for all, then we need to start treating all of our citizens with equality, and we believe that this case highlights the lack of sensitivity and the lack of understanding that we have in these areas.”
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