Deputy Public Defender Eric McBurney’s statement on the case for his client Steven Jenkins

Screen-shot-Steven-Jenkins-UN-Plaza-031721-by-surveillance-camera, Deputy Public Defender Eric McBurney’s statement on the case for his client Steven Jenkins, Local News & Views


by Valerie Ibarra 

My name is Eric McBurney, the deputy public defender representing Steven Jenkins, who was arrested on March 17, 2021, after witnesses saw him strike Xiao Zhen Xie at the corner of Market and Seventh Street in San Francisco. Mr. Jenkins is also accused of hitting Ngoc Pham that same day. 

These are two deeply troubling assaults of elderly Asian Americans in our community at a time when Asian Americans locally and nationally are suffering from an escalation of violence and anti-Asian racism. As an immigrant from Taiwan myself, I understand why there has been so much concern about this case and I have great sympathy for Mr. Pham, Ms. Xiao and their families. 

However, this situation is much more complex than it may appear. Based on the facts that I have reviewed, I do not believe that Mr. Jenkins’s actions were racially motivated. On that day, Mr. Jenkins himself was the victim of an unprovoked attack by four unknown assailants who struck him over 40 times immediately before he was seen striking Mr. Pham and Ms. Xiao. 

Video: Steven Jenkins, 39 (look for the pointer in the upper left), who has endured homelessness for much of his adult life, is being accused of attacking two Asian Americans in San Francisco March 17, 2021. Eric McBurney, the public defender for Jenkins, claims his defendant is innocent due to mental distress after being previously assaulted by four unknown assailants. McBurney, originally from Taiwan, states how the situation is a tragedy for both Jenkins and the two Asian Americans. 

Due to the initial attack, Mr. Jenkins suffered multiple head injuries. I believe that he was in a diminished mental state and disoriented as a result when he encountered Mr. Pham and Ms. Xiao just moments later. 

Right now, I cannot answer every question, but I wanted to share what we know so far from the video surveillance we released April 8. On the morning of March 17, 2021, Mr. Jenkins suffered an unprovoked assault by multiple unknown parties at United Nations Plaza. Surveillance video showed him as the victim of a group attack in broad daylight while pedestrians went about their business near the farmers’ market. 

This situation is much more complex than it may appear and based on the facts that I have reviewed, I do not believe that Mr. Jenkins’s actions were racially motivated.

Following that initial assault by three people, another unidentified man followed Mr. Jenkins and struck him multiple times as he was walking away. In irregular bursts, the attack on Mr. Jenkins lasted over three minutes, during which time he was hit 45 times and sustained multiple blows to the head. As he walked away from his own assailants, Mr. Jenkins’s face was bloodied, he was disoriented and possibly concussed. 

When Mr. Jenkins encountered Ms. Xiao three minutes later, he was being pursued by his fourth assailant who had just hit him multiple times approximately 20 seconds before Mr. Jenkins struck Ms. Xiao. 

Ms. Xiao was standing near a pole at the corner of Market and Seventh Street. She was wearing a hat and a mask. Mr. Jenkins hit her one time before a security guard ran over and tackled him to the ground. 

Steven Jenkins is a 39-year-old homeless man with mental health issues. What happened that day was not the norm for him. 

He has no prior convictions for physically hurting anyone. He has struggled throughout his life on the street, largely ignored by society. Even when he is attacked and hit over 40 times in broad daylight, in the busy UN Plaza, not one person came to his aid. 

This situation is a tragedy on many fronts. There were three victims of assault that terrible morning: Ms. Xiao, Mr. Pham and indeed Mr. Jenkins himself. 

Valerie Ibarra is public information officer for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. She can be reached by email and by phone (628)249-7946.