SF: Alleged assault on elderly woman result of insufficient mental health supports, advocates say


For the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, the arrest and charging of a man accused of severely assaulting an 88-year-old woman July 14 is another example of an Asian hate crime in a city run amok with crime. For the defendant’s lawyers and advocates, he represents what happens when people with little resources seek help for mental health issues and are repeatedly turned away.

James Ramsey, 27, was arrested on suspicion of an unprovoked assault on an elderly woman on Ellis Street that gave the woman life-threatening injuries. Ramsey has been charged with multiple felonies, including elder abuse, assault by means to cause great bodily injury and battery.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins in a press release July 25 came down swiftly on Ramsey.

“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,” said Jenkins.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey also wrote on social media about the attack, calling it “deplorable” and “disgusting” and part of a “scourge of hate and violence” against Asian seniors.

On July 26, advocates for Ramsey from the Anti Police-Terror Project, a criminal justice reform organization in Northern California that coordinates outreach to people experiencing mental health crises, released a statement expressing “deep sadness” for what happened to the elderly woman but said that repeated attempts to get Ramsey help for a “well-documented history of serious mental illness and a history of head injuries” have gone unheeded.

Cat Brooks, co-founder and executive director of APTP, said Ramsey has had previous run-ins with the law, but that this is an example of how taking a punitive approach to people experiencing mental illness can result in them coming out of jail worse than when they went in and repeating their behavior.

In September 2021, Ramsey pleaded no contest to assaulting Carl Chan, president of Oakland’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. Prosecutors dropped hate crime charges and his attorney argued he had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

When Ramsey was released from jail in 2022, Brooks said he was simply put back on the street with no medication and nothing but his ID and a bus ticket. Her organization attempted to get him into eight different facilities, all of which said no, she said. Instead, APTP put him up in hotels as they tried to find him a more permanent home.

“Ultimately, we lost Mr. Ramsey,” she said through tears. “Back to the streets, and his mental health issues are compounded by substance abuse issues, and of course the trauma of being incarcerated.”

Ramsey is being represented by the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, which said 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. 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.”

Brooks said there are many things that need to change in order for people with mental illness to be protected, as well as those they may harm due to lack of services.

“We need to stop criminalizing folks with mental health issues,” she said. “When we send people with mental health issues to jails and/or prisons, they do not get treatment, they do not get healing. And because of the levels of neglect and violence inside of those institutions, they actually are spit back out into the streets worse for the wear with no wraparound services or supports.”

Jenkins and Dorsey did not respond to requests for further comment on the case.

Ramsey is next due in San Francisco Superior Court on Aug. 7.

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