SF DA, public defender contradict allegations made by Chinatown attack victim

ANH_LE
  • Anh Lê, 69, filed a federal lawsuit against the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday for allegedly mishandling his Chinatown attack case from November 2019.
  • In the original case, Lê alleged that Jimmy Tanner Sr. threatened to kill him with a glass bottle while his son repeatedly struck him with a baseball bat.
  • Sliman Nawabi, Tanner’s public defender, rejected Lê’s claims, saying his client is “severely disabled” and was in a wheelchair at the time of their encounter.

A man accused of attacking and threatening to kill an Asian senior in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Nov. 2, 2019, is “severely disabled” and was using a wheelchair to travel at the time of their encounter, his lawyer said.

The incident, which allegedly occurred in front of a Chinese grocery store on Stockton St. — and reportedly witnessed by a crowd — was cited in a federal lawsuit filed against the District Attorney’s Office this week.

The alleged attack

Anh Lê, 69, was out for a walk when Jimmy Tanner Sr. and his teenage son allegedly threatened to kill him using a glass bottle and a baseball bat. Lê said it all started after he politely asked the boy, who was riding a bicycle, to be careful since the sidewalk was crowded and he nearly collided with him.

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Moments later, according to Lê’s team, the boy allegedly took out a baseball bat from his mother’s bag and used it to beat Lê multiple times. His father, on the other hand, allegedly raised a glass bottle and threatened to kill Lê.

“I pleaded with the Tanners to stop, but they relished in their ability to inflict pain and fear on a defenseless senior citizen,” Lê said in a victim impact statement seen by NextShark. “The attack was the most brutal, terrifying, and humiliating experience of my life, and has stayed with me ever since.”

Lê said he also learned that the Tanners had targeted other Asian Americans around Chinatown on the same day. Those incidents allegedly occurred before and after their encounter.

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The DA’s alleged failures

The Tanners were detained later on the same day, but only Tanner Sr. was charged with misdemeanor battery, felony elder abuse and felony terroristic threats. The District Attorney’s Office reportedly agreed to a plea deal later, which, according to Lê’s team, saw Tanner plead guilty to the battery charge for no jail time and only a year of probation.

The police did not arrest Tanner on any hate crime charges, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus filed charges against Tanner on Nov. 6, 2019, but she did not file hate crime charges.

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In his lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Lê claimed that the office had not informed him of such plea discussions, nor did it give him an opportunity to submit and read a victim impact statement in court. Additionally, the office allegedly refused to correct a Criminal Protective Order (CPO) that omitted his last name — identifying him only as “Anh L” — and misstated his age.

Lê’s legal team at King & Spalding LLP, a member of the Alliance for Asian American Justice, said the District Attorney’s Office was in violation of California’s Marsy’s Law, which preserves and protects a victim’s rights to due process. At one point, the office also allegedly told Lê that he had no right to be at hearings.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Le is yet again being revictimized and that his injuries and trauma are being minimized. The systemic unjust treatment and disregard of Asian American victims by prosecutor’s offices, and the clear violations of Marsy’s Law here (as confirmed on the record by San Francisco Superior Court judges), are precisely why we brought this case,” Quyen Ta, a member of Lê’s team at King & Spalding, told NextShark.

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Lê believes the attack against him was a hate crime, but the District Attorney’s Office allegedly refused to elevate Tanner’s charges. No one in the Tanner family was charged with a hate crime.

“Victims of anti-Asian American hate crimes need to have confidence in the criminal justice system,” Ta said. “This is especially true for senior citizens and those from immigrant communities who lack confidence in the system that has historically discounted their voices.”

Lê, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), does not seek to relitigate the attack but instead hold the District Attorney’s Office accountable for its failures. His suit also cites similar cases in which the office allegedly failed to treat Asian American victims fairly.

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An advocate with the Victim Services Division at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, however, had made multiple attempts between November 2020 and March 2021 to reach Lê via email messages, phone calls and mail regarding a proposed resolution to the case. But Lê would allegedly pick up the phone and hang up. 

The advocate, who is also trained to work with elderly abuse victims, was able to make contact with Lê in March, around the time the case was set for preliminary hearing.

The victim advocate and the district attorney also had Lê’s statements and his position on how the case should have been handled, according to the Victim Services Division.

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The case was resolved in court on April 12, 2021, for a plea deal to a battery charge, including probation and a stayaway order.  Le was not present at that court date despite repeated contact, the District Attorney’s Office said.

The prosecutor told the court at the time of the resolution Le’s concerns and requests about the case. Le reportedly wanted Tanner to be sentenced to state prison and wanted his child to be prosecuted.

Tanner denies allegations

In the wake of Lê’s federal suit, Sliman Nawabi, Tanner’s public defender, released a statement denying that his client had attacked Lê. Tanner, according to Nawabi, is “a severely disabled man with spinal cord injuries.”

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Nawabi said Tanner was traveling in his wheelchair on the day of the alleged attack. He confirmed that his client was accompanied by his wife and young children.

“The children were riding their bikes and Mr. Lê berated them for being on the sidewalk,” Nawabi told NextShark. “Out of fear, Mr. Tanner’s 11-year-old son took out his plastic baseball bat and swung it at Mr. Lê, but it is unclear whether he made any physical contact.”

Nawabi said the only interaction between Tanner and Lê was verbal and related to his client protecting his children. He also rejected Lê’s claim about Tanner using a glass bottle.

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“Mr. Lê was never attacked by Mr. Tanner nor was a glass bottle used as a weapon against Mr. Lê,” Nawabi said. “While this incident led to the detention of Mr. Tanner, his wife and their children,  Mr. Lê refused medical attention and had no visible injuries from the plastic baseball bat.”

Contrary to Lê’s claim and the district attorney’s office, Nawabi claims that Tanner did not plead to any charges, “because there was no evidence” supporting the allegations. He added that all charges against his client were dropped “in the interest of justice.”

“Based on the facts of this case, the filing of a lawsuit by Mr. Lê and his supporters to extract a punishment for Mr. Tanner – when the law, the evidence and justice do not support that any crime was committed – is quite frankly hard to understand. It’s clear that there were gross misrepresentations of fact by Mr. Lê in the press and in the lawsuit,” Nawabi said.

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NextShark has reached out to the San Francisco Police Department to request for comment and an incident report on the alleged attack.

Featured Image via Alliance for Asian American Justice

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