A man arrested in San Francisco and accused of allegedly assaulting an 88-year-old Asian American woman had hate crime charges against him dropped in 2021, the city district attorney’s office said.
Oakland resident James Lee Ramsey, 27, was taken into custody Friday for allegedly kicking the woman to the ground and assaulting her, the district attorney said in a statement. He is also accused of attacking a witness at the scene.
The woman was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Charges against Ramsey include several felonies: elder abuse, assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and battery causing serious bodily injury, according to the DA. He is also charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly attacking the witness, as well as misdemeanor vandalism. He was not charged with a hate crime, but the DA said that could change because the investigation continues.
Ramsey pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being held without bail, the DA said.
“The crimes that Mr. Ramsey is accused of are horrific,” District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in the statement. “I am grateful to the witness who was able to detain him until police arrived ensuring that he did not flee.”
Ramsey's attorney, San Francisco deputy public defender Lilah Wolf, told NBC News that she wishes the victim a speedy recovery — and that her client was never able to get the mental health care he needed.
"I can say that it is very clear that Mr. Ramsey has been suffering from mental health issues for a long time and did not receive the care that he needed and tried to get," she said. "He is a vulnerable member of the community, and our legal system, which has consistently demonstrated it is not equipped to address mental illness, let him down."
Jenkins’ office acknowledged that Ramsey was arrested in 2021 and charged with a hate crime and assault after he was accused of attacking Carl Chan, a community and business leader in Oakland’s Chinatown, and knocking him unconscious, according to the police complaint.
Ramsey agreed to plead no contest to assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury in exchange for dropping the hate crime charge. His public defender at the time cited mental health challenges, as well.
“This was not a hate crime, and we’re glad that enhancement was properly dismissed,” Alameda County’s chief public defender, Brendon Woods, told the San Francisco Chronicle after the 2021 incident. “Mr. Ramsey needs mental health treatment, not state prison.”
The attack last week follows several highly publicized attacks on older Asian Americans across the country in the last few years and the corresponding rise of the Stop AAPI Hate movement.
On July 10, an 86-year-old Asian woman was shoved to the ground in another unprovoked attack in San Francisco. She sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
“My office, on behalf of the victims, and every San Franciscan who is fed up with brazen violence like this, will stand for justice and seek to hold him accountable for his crimes,” Jenkins said of Ramsey.