A preliminary hearing for the man accused of fatally pushing Vicha Ratanapakdee in San Francisco last year commenced on Tuesday, reigniting calls for justice and an end to anti-Asian violence.
Antoine Watson previously pleaded not guilty to murder and elder abuse charges for the daylight attack on Anza Vista and Fortuna Avenues on Jan. 28, 2021, which was caught on surveillance video and later helped galvanize the Stop Asian Hate movement.
Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai immigrant, was out for a morning walk when someone appeared out of nowhere and shoved him to the ground, causing him to hit his head on the pavement. Police found him in a pool of his own blood and took him to the hospital, where he died of his injuries two days later.
Watson, then 19, was arrested with an alleged female accomplice hours after the crime. But the latter, identified as his then 20-year-old girlfriend, was eventually released due to an absence of evidence.
Family, friends and supporters gathered in front of the San Francisco Hall of Justice before Tuesday’s hearing to demand justice. Former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was recalled last week, did not pursue the case as a hate crime and instead described the assailant’s actions as “some sort of temper tantrum.”
However, Ratanapakdee’s daughter, Monthanus, believes that her father was targeted because he was Asian.
“The story of my father is not going to be in vain. His memory should be about equal rights for everyone,” she said on Tuesday. “Asian Americans deserve to be treated equally.”
Leanna Louie, a public safety advocate, stressed that the incident was unprovoked.
“He did nothing wrong,” Louie said. “He did not provoke anyone. What happened to him was just horrible and it should never happen again.”
The preliminary hearing, which continues today, will have Judge Richard Darwin decide whether the case leads to a jury trial. The first officer who arrived at the scene and the neighbor whose camera captured the incident were among the witnesses who took the stand on Tuesday.
Watson, who remains in jail without bond, reportedly appeared in court with shackles on his wrists and ankles. His public defender, Anita Nabha, said he was severely stressed on the day of the incident.
“I know that Antoine and his family feel really devastated by the loss of life — it’s had an enormous impact on them,” Nabha told the San Francisco Chronicle after the hearing. She added that “these communities have far more in common than differences.”