Woman attacked outside SF apartment building to move upon suspect's release

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The man, who appears to be attacking a woman outside of her San Francisco apartment building on surveillance video early Sunday morning, has been released, according to city officials.

Maxwell Szabo, a spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, said on Wednesday that the suspect in the case, 25-year-old Austin James Vincent, was released on assertive case management (a legal term used in reference to the mental health profession). 

On Tuesday, Vincent entered a plea of not guilty on charges of false imprisonment, attempted robbery, and two counts of battery.

He was released by a judge on the condition that he periodically checks in with a case manager. 

KTVU spoke with the victim of the attack for the second time on Wednesday. 

"I was not a part of this decision and that'...I was attacked and that man attacked me. It's on video. What else does the city need to see for proof to know that this man is a danger to all of us?" the woman named Paneez said. She requested that her last name not be published. 

She said she and her husband plan on moving out of San Francisco. 

"I don't want to be in a city knowing that there could be criminals anywhere," she said. "They're not getting punished, so I don't want to live here anymore."   

Paneez said she is recovering from the bruises she suffered during the attack, but that she can't escape the trauma. "It's all over my mind. I can't stop thinking about the fact that this man is free after what he did to me," she said. 

Despite the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project, which handles pre-trial assessments,  recommending that Vincent remain in custody, he is already back on the streets. 

"You enter the information and there's an algorithm to determine the recommendation and in this case it was release not recommended," said David Mauroff, CEO of the SF Pretrial Diversion Project. There are several factors considered in the algorithm including; age, criminal history, and past failure to appear in court.  

The judge did not order Vincent to wear a monitoring device. 

"What is preventing him from attacking another woman tonight? Get on drugs, get high again? It's unbelievable," said Paneez. She said she was notified of the suspect's release by the District Attorney's office after it had happened. 

Surveillance video of the attack shows the victim, Paneez, struggling to get through her building's front door, before being taken down by Vincent.

A security guard working at the building's main lobby helped the woman by holding the door shut and eventually locking it. 

Paneez described her ordeal to KTVU on Tuesday. 

"This guy was obviously mentally unstable; definitely on drugs. The amount of strength he has was not normal for a man that size,'' she said. 

"He kept saying, 'Come with me, I'm trying to save your life.' I was fighting for my life, at my own house, trying to get inside one door. This is mental illness, this is drug issues and this is security and the city is responsible. They're putting all our lives at risk," Paneez said. 

The group Safe Embarcadero For All have enlisted the services of noted Bay Area public relations representative Sam Singer, and are highlighting the proximity of this incident to a proposed SAFE Navigation Center for the homeless. 

Safe Embarcadero is against the shelter's location and is suing the City of San Francisco to stop the proposed center on the Embarcadero. 

San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, which has advocated for the homeless navigation center, rhetorically asked on Twitter on Wednesday, "Why are media outlets legitimizing the idea that a Navigation Center (not open for three months) is responsible for the assault? There are horrific assaults that happen every day, perpetrated by folks whose housing status is never mentioned," Jennifer Friedenbach, the Coalition's executive director wrote. "It is incredibly cynical for Navigation Center opponents to amplify this incident and use it to push back against a Navigation Center in their neighborhood. Violence is never okay. Demonizing a class of people simply leads to more violence."     

On Tuesday, Safe Embarcadero issued a statement that read, "This is an issue of the safety of our residents, our neighborhood, our City. Yet, the elected leadership of San Francisco has turned a blind eye to our safety." 

The group has characterized the homeless navigation center as "ill-conceived" and have been vocal critics at public meetings about the center backed by Mayor London Breed. 

"We live in concern and with fear of what may come because of the inability of the City to listen to the concerns, and follow its own rules, in the creation of new homeless centers and facilities," Safe Embarcadero For All board member Wallace Lee wrote. 

Breed's office called the attack "terrible" and "disturbing," adding: "allowing people to continue to remain on the street without providing resources will only make the challenges we face more severe."

Breed is looking to open 1,000 new shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness across the city, said Deputy Communications Director Andy Lynch. 

KTVU's Amber Lee contributed to this story.