Two men were convicted last week for the beating of two Mexican nationals in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood in November in a case that District Attorney George Gascon said Thursday highlights a growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the city and around the country.
Robert Allen, 39, and Justin Meskan, 29, were found guilty in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday of assault and battery charges stemming from the Nov. 10 beating of two Hispanic men outside the Nite Cap bar at O’Farrell and Hyde streets, prosecutors said.
But while prosecutors claimed the attack was racially motivated, jurors rejected hate crime enhancements to the charges against the pair.
The attack started when a group that included Allen and Meskan, who Gascon said both have ties to a racist skinhead group, surrounded victim Alex Cauich and began to assault him, knocking him to the ground, punching him and kicking him in the face until he passed out.
When Alex’s cousin Jose Omar Cauich came to his defense, he was assaulted as well, according to the district attorney’s office.
During the attack, witnesses reported hearing the men yelling “white power,” and “run like you run across the border,” prosecutors said. A laptop found in Allen’s apartment had Nazi and Hitler imagery on the background of the screen.
A third man charged in the case, 33-year-old Anthony Weston, accepted a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to assault charges and the hate crime allegation in exchange for a sentence of probation, having already served nearly a year in jail, prosecutor Victor Hwang said.
The plea deal required Weston to testify against Allen and Meskan during the trial and describe to prosecutors the network of skinhead groups in San Francisco.
Gascon said his investigators have discovered that there are three active white supremacy groups in the city, with some concentrated in the Tenderloin area where the beating occurred.
“It’s a tremendous cause for concern,” he said. “If we do not remain vigilant … these activities are likely to increase.”
Gascon and Hwang, who prosecuted the case, said at a news conference at the Hall of Justice Thursday that they were disappointed that the hate crime enhancement was rejected by the jury.
Hwang said that after the verdict was announced, he talked to jurors, some of whom told him that the jury’s instructions that the crime had to be caused by hate led to their rejection of the enhancement.
He said jurors felt that the fight was not necessarily started for hate crime reasons, but may have become racially motivated based on the length and severity of the attack.
Hwang said hate crimes are difficult to prosecute since, along with proving guilt, prosecutors “have the additional burden of establishing motive.”
The district attorney’s office was able to prosecute the case thanks to the Consulate General of Mexico since Jose Omar Cauich went back to Mexico after the attack but was convinced by the consulate to return to the U.S. for the court proceedings, Gascon said.
The case is an example of an “anti-immigrant environment that is spreading throughout the country,” Gascon said.
“As the economy gets more challenged, people are beginning to feel that their jobs and livelihoods are being threatened, and immigrants become the scapegoats,” he said. “We want to make sure here in San Francisco that we take a very clear stand, and say this will not be tolerated in our town.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News