HomeCommunity IssuesAAPI groups demand investigation into elder's death in San Francisco

AAPI groups demand investigation into elder’s death in San Francisco

Content Warning: this post contains descriptions of assault.

By Julia Tong

On Thursday police arrested Thea Hopkins, 43, following an assault on a 71-year-old Chinese woman in San Francisco. Hopkins allegedly grabbed the elderly woman’s hair, punched her multiple times, and threw her to the ground. She pleaded not guilty to one count of assault and one count of elderly abuse.

But this is not the first time Hopkins has been accused of harming an elderly Asian woman. On July 7th, Yanfang Wu, 63, was shoved from behind, and passed away two days later from her injuries. Though Hopkins was arrested following Wu’s death, she was released after the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) deemed the death an accident.

The news that Hopkins may have been involved in both incidents shook the local Asian American community, says lawyer Charles H. Jung, a member of the Asian Justice Movement (AJM). 

“When we learned that, on last Monday, this same person allegedly attacked another elderly Asian woman… we were alarmed and upset,” says Jung to AsAmNews.

AJM is a coalition of local community organizations and organizers. Now, they are demanding that the investigation into Wu’s death be re-opened.

“[AJM] demand the immediate release of the video showing the fatal attack on Ms. Yanfang Wu (age 63) and that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) re-open the case as a homicide investigation and potential hate crime,” a statement posted on Instagram reads.

Following Wu’s death in July 2023, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) announced a homicide investigation. Jung says that the SFPD’s Acting Commander had asked for the community’s help and leads. But as the investigation was underway, he says, the SFPD gave them no relevant info – making it difficult for the community to support the investigation. 

On July 19th, AJM members met with the Acting Commander of the SFPD, demanding the release of the video from Wu’s death. Per AJM’s statement, the Acting Commander refused, and did not provide any “additional substantive information” on the investigation.

Two days later, Jung recalls, he was surprised to see a San Francisco Standard article with an update that the investigation had been closed. In the article, anonymous sources leaked that the SFPD concluded that the death was an accident, as Hopkins was rushing to a bus and collided with Wu from behind. 

The SFPD later confirmed the leaked information in a press release on August 21st. 

“Based on evidence gathered by investigators, and after exhausting investigative leads, this incident has been deemed an accidental death,” the release reads. “Unless new evidence emerges, this case will remain closed.”

In an email to AsAmNews Monday, a SFPD representative stated: “The SFPD does not release evidence – video or otherwise – in open cases because it could jeopardize the investigation.”

In a later statement to AsAmNews, a SFPD representative clarified that the case was deemed “inactive not closed.”

But frustration from the SFPD’s lack of transparency still lingered in the community. Jung says that AJM received no further communication from SFPD on the case. The video of Wu’s death has still not been made public. 

“That lack of transparency and using the press that way, instead of communicating with the members of the Asian American community was not ideal, and was disappointing,” says Jung. 

Now, following Hopkins’s arrest, AJM has publicized four demands for the SFPD. These include reopening investigation into Wu’s death and whether attacks were hate crimes; the immediate release of the video of Wu’s death; identifying the source of the leak that Wu’s death was an ‘accident’; and investigating whether Hopkins has a history of anti-Asian hate crimes. 

The SFPD has yet to respond to these demands. However, a spokesperson from the department provided a statement to AsAmNews.

“The SFPD is reexamining the evidence in the July 3, 2023, case on 3rd Street and Egbert Ave. after receiving new evidence,” the spokesperson said, referring to Wu’s death. “We are not disclosing what the evidence is or identifying the identity of the suspect at this time.”

Until then, AJM is beginning their campaign to advocate for justice for Wu. On Friday, Jung says, AJM will deliver a formal letter outlining their demands, along with a list of signatories.

Ultimately, Jung remains optimistic that Wu and other victims will receive justice. But he stresses that the SFPD must meet demands for greater communication with the community they serve. 

“There is a long history here that needs to be addressed. Enduring problems tend not to get better by hiding them,” says Jung. “So I think it’s time for some transparency.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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