SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The murder of a 94-year-old Leo Hainzl in San Francisco’s Glen Park neighborhood and the subsequent arrest of a homeless man has neighbors questioning whether the city should have moved more quickly to compel the suspect to get treatment.
Hainzl, who told neighbors he moved to America after his family escaped Nazi Germany, was walking his dog Monday morning when police say the homeless man attacked the elderly man with a stick, beating him severely.
He was rushed to the hospital where he died. The suspect, 53-year-old Peter Rocha, is in jail facing murder charges.
Shawn Zovod said Rocha has had many confrontations with neighbors and has violently threatened people, including Zovod herself a few months ago.
“He walked up to me in the park and said — ‘The park’s for people, not for dogs, not for animals. And you need a beating, and I’m the one to give it to you,'” said Zovod. “And so I contacted the police immediately.”
Zovod said she also contacted San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who added Rocha to a list of people the supervisor said needed serious help before they harmed someone.
“This is like a worst case scenario … like a nightmare,” Mandelman said.
The supervisor has been working for years now to get a system in place to place people who live on the street and who are most likely to hurt others and themselves into conservatorship. He said he is not sure yet whether Rocha fit the criteria.
“But I do know that based on what I was hearing from neighbors, he is not someone who should have been making decisions for himself,” Mandelman said. “He’s not someone who should have been able to refuse care. He’s not someone who should have been able to menace the neighborhood. And now there’s this 94-year-old refugee to the United States who died while trying to take his dog for a walk.”
The legislature has passed two recent state laws, the latest in 2019. Still, San Francisco has not compelled a single person into conservatorship.
San Francisco’s Department of Public Health said it has taken many months, but now a program has finally been designed for conservatorship. It is still awaiting approval by the court system.
“DPH and its city partners are ready to move forward with housing conservatorship as soon as the courts allow,” the department said in a written statement. “Until then, we will support clients who meet the criteria for housing conservatorship with other types of services.”
The city is now in a budget crisis, but Mandelman says he is determined to make sure there will be enough beds when folks are eventually placed in conservatorship.
“I think we have to be hyper diligent that those [beds] don’t get cut,” he said. “And in fact, as we are slashing other areas, that we expand there. Because the crisis of mental illness on our streets is worse than ever.”