SAN FRANCISCO - Amil Ojea was about to pass his certification with tech giant Salesforce over the summer. It was going help the Army veteran and San Francisco resident transition from his decades-long career as a bartender to something more stable.
But an attack last year near his apartment in the city’s Lower Nob Hill neighborhood left him with severe head injuries – including a traumatic brain injury – that have derailed his life.
The alleged assailant in the case, Hasira Sutton, 45, is in jail facing felony charges of assault and battery, causing great bodily injury. But Ojea and other residents along Post Street say the attack should have been prevented.
They’ve complained to the city and police long before the June 14 episode about Sutton’s menacing and sometimes violent behavior, but they say the city never took meaningful steps to intervene.
On Friday, Sutton will go before a judge, seeking to have his case diverted based on his mental health issues.
Ojea said he will be in court speaking out against his release.
"He’s done this numerous times to other people and they can’t just let him back out," Ojea said. "It just doesn’t make sense."
Records show Sutton has a long history of brushes with the law, including three felony strikes on his record.
He was arrested in 2019 on suspicion of an unprovoked stabbing at 5th and Market streets. Records show the previous district attorney did not file charges in the case.
Court documents show neighbors along the block where he slept at Post and Taylor streets have long complained about him.
"Neighbors wrote over 50 letters expressing their experiences with Defendant over the past few years," Assistant District Attorney Edward Mario wrote in a court motion opposing Sutton’s release on pretrial diversion.
Sam Askendafi owns a liquor store on the corner where the attack happened. He said he’s called police on Sutton more than 20 times previously.
"Every restaurant, every neighbor -- the whole neighborhood -- they complain about him," he said.
Ojea said he still has trouble remembering exactly what took place the night of the attack, but video of the incident was reviewed by law enforcement, who detailed the account in court papers.
Mario wrote that it showed Ojea walking past Sutton shortly before midnight and the two "appear to engage in a dialogue back and forth."
Authorities said Sutton then punched Ojea, who collapsed unconscious.
That’s when Sutton "gets on top of Ojea, who is no longer moving, and violently unleashes approximately 10 more punches on Ojea’s motionless body," Mario wrote.
Sutton then violently shook Ojea, yelled at his motionless body, and dragged him to a light post where he hit him several times, Mario said.
Ojea said he came to as responding officers propped him up, telling him he’d been assaulted.
Sutton’s public defender disputed law enforcement and Ojea’s record of the encounter.
""This was not an unprovoked attack," Deputy Public Defender Nadia Iqbal said in a statement to KTVU. "The truth will come to light in court through video evidence showing that the alleged victim instigated the incident as he began verbally harassing and standing over Mr. Sutton who was asleep on the sidewalk."
She said that "Mr. Sutton made several attempts to remove himself from this aggressive situation before it escalated, yet he's the one who's been in jail for the past seven months awaiting trial. This is yet another example of how vulnerable unhoused people are in our city and often fall victim to false narratives and criminalization."
Since the attack, Ojea has been hospitalized several times. He had brain surgery, and a large portion of his skull removed that’s now covered by a prosthetic. He also suffered a broken orbital socket and nose in the attack.
He said the doctors and nurses in the intensive care unit at San Francisco General Hospital were unsure if he would even survive.
He gets medical treatments from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which he said has saved him from the $1.5 million in medical bills he’s racked up.
Ojea said he'd be in court Friday speaking out against his alleged assailant’s request to have his case diverted. If the judge agrees, Sutton is scheduled to go to trial a week later.
In the meantime, Ojea said he’s trying to get his life back on track and hopes to get back to work.
"I do feel better me than someone else. I don’t know too many other people that would have been able to handle the beating and walk away from it," he said.
Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky