A Vietnamese American resident of San Francisco is suing Dist. Atty. Chesa Boudin, accusing the prosecutor of not upholding his rights as the victim of a racially motivated attack after he was assaulted while walking in Chinatown.
According to the federal lawsuit filed Monday, after 69-year-old Anh Le was threatened and attacked with a plastic baseball bat by a father and his teenage son in November 2019, Boudin’s office declined to file hate crime charges and finalized a lenient plea deal with the man, Jimmy Tanner.
Tanner pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge with no jail time and a one-year probation, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit names only Le as a plaintiff, but he said he wants the case to bring attention to all victims of anti-Asian crimes and anyone else who believes they have been ignored by the district attorney's office.
“In this case, as disturbing as the attack on Mr. Le is, equally disturbing is his mistreatment by the D.A.’s office in the aftermath of his violent attack by the Tanner family,” the lawsuit says.
Boudin’s office called the lawsuit “blatantly political and inaccurate.”
In a statement, Assistant Dist. Atty. Rachel Marshall said Boudin has expanded victim services and improved support for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, while recently launching an AAPI Elder Abuse steering committee.
"We will not stop fighting to ensure that every victim’s needs are met," Marshall said.
The San Francisco district attorney's office issued a revised statement three days after its initial response to the lawsuit, disputing many of the underlying facts in Lê's complaint and correcting that Tanner's son was 11-years-old during the time of the incident.
During the attack, Le said, Tanner threatened him with a glass bottle and said, “I’m going to kill you.” Tanner’s son then hit him with a baseball bat, according to the complaint. Boudin's office clarified the baseball bat was plastic and photographs taken by police after the incident did not reveal any physical injuries to Lê.
Tanner’s public defender in the criminal case, Sliman Nawabi, said Le was berating the Tanner family for crowding the sidewalk, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Tanner is a “severely disabled man” who was in a wheelchair with his wife and children, Nawabi said, and his son feared for his family’s safety when he struck Lê with a plastic baseball bat.
The lawsuit alleges Boudin's office violated the California Victims' Bill of Rights by not notifying Le of plea deal discussions it was having with Tanner and not allowing him to give a statement at a court hearing where the plea deal was reached, making him "feel invisible."
Boudin's office said police did not file hate crime charges against Tanner and the district attorney's office did not pursue those charges. A victim's advocate met with Le more than two dozen times while the district attorney's office tried the case, but Le did not respond to repeated messages from the office, according to the revised statement.
"In his lawsuit, Mr. Lê falsely asserted that our office settled the case without consulting him or receiving any input from him. This is not accurate," Boudin's office said. "The advocate also specifically reached out to Mr. Lê before the case resolved — and indicated that the case might resolve and that the assigned prosecutor wanted to discuss the potential resolution with him."
Kasie Lee, chief of the district attorney's office's Victim Services Division, said victims often experience trauma and pain that goes beyond physical injuries.
"Given the lawsuit’s significant mischaracterizations of the events in this case — which have understandably led many community members to be upset and undermines the trust between crime victims and their advocates — we believe it is important to share correct information about the underlying case and explain the work of our office and our victim advocate in this case," Lee said in a statement.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Alexandra Gordon apologized to Le during a court hearing after he learned of the plea agreement that reduced Tanner’s charges to a misdemeanor.
"I can only apologize to you for the experience that you have had in this building, and for any part that the court has played in it. I am absolutely sorry,” Gordon said, according to a court transcript included with Lê’s lawsuit.
In his revised statement, Boudin said he's proud of his office's work for victims and he's "disappointed by politically motivated efforts to mislead the public about our work and the facts of this case."
On the day Le was attacked, the lawsuit claims, the Tanner family terrorized Asian Americans at a Chinatown herbal store and a woman who was threatened with the same baseball bat.
At the time, Tanner was arrested on suspicion of felony elder abuse, felony terroristic threats and battery, but he was not charged with a hate crime, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney Quyen Ta of the San Francisco law firm King & Spalding, a member of the Alliance for Asian American Justice, is representing Le pro bono.
In his federal lawsuit, Le names Boudin in his official capacity as district attorney along with the city and county of San Francisco.
Le also filed a civil suit against Tanner in Superior Court in November alleging elder abuse and battery along with other charges.
San Francisco reported 60 victims of anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021, up from just nine in 2020, according to the Police Department.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.