By Alana Bleimann
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Judge Christine Van Aken heard two preliminary hearings Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court for David Sterkin, a former lawyer who is accused of assaulting multiple victims five months apart.
Prosecutor Myles Campbell called SFPD Officer Andrew Wheeler in Sterkin’s first preliminary hearing for an alleged assault that occurred in late April of this year.
Wheeler said he responded in an SFPD vehicle after he “received a report of assault” on the corner of Haight Street and Cole Street, known to locals as a small hippie town, but also “home” for unhoused individuals.
“It’s a mix of stunning wealth and gross inequality, housing scarcity, and jarring disconnects between intentions and reality, and it’s all in play within a few square blocks,” author Kristi Coale stated in an article with the Frisc.
“The subject had punched a woman in the fact,” Wheeler explained to the court, who said the victim told him that a male wearing a brown hat, a leather jacket, and blue jeans assaulted her. He was also carrying a guitar on his back which was secured in a backpack-like bag.
Once Wheeler arrived at the scene, Sterkin was already detained and Wheeler began speaking with one of the victims who told him she and her “male companion” were walking down the street when she lightly brushed Sterkin’s backpack.
After she brushed up against him, Sterkin allegedly started chasing after the male companion stating “Don’t fucking touch me.”
The male companion tried to make some space between himself and Sterkin, the officer was told, when Sterkin approached the female victim, hitting her on the head “with a closed fist” causing her to fall into the front metal gate of an optometrist business.
Prosecutor Campbell then proceeded to show Judge Van Aken a photograph of the female victim’s forehead injury. There was a clear, and deep, cut down the middle of her forehead.
The male victim complained of some ear pain, as he was also hit with a closed fist, but no other physical pain was mentioned. Both victims “seemed shaken,” the officer told the court.
After the incident, Officer Wheeler said he was told Sterkin continued walking down the intersection until the police were called.
SF Public Defender Landon Davis began his cross examination of Wheeler, making it clear through questioning that neither of the victims made any remarks to Sterkin before the assault nor were they drinking or using any drugs or attempting to fight back.
SFPD Officer Megan Sinclair also testified, noting victims told her Sterkin “went off” on them after the female victim “inadvertently brushed up against his backpack.” It is unclear whether or not this backpack was the same one as the one holding Sterkin’s guitar.
She did state, however, that the male victim did not have any “visible injuries” on him, other than his report of ear/head pain.
During his cross examination of Officer Sinclair, PD Davis confirmed both Sinclair and Wheeler’s reports did not match up with their testimonies in court as written in their reports. The male victim, for instance, “indicated no pain” in the written report, but their spoken testimonies claimed otherwise.
Davis stated to Judge Van Aken that there was “not enough details about how the interaction happened” and that this incident was not aggravated assault and that it was not likely to cause great bodily injury.
He requested that both counts be reduced to a misdemeanor, and noted Sterkin, 43, and used to be a lawyer in the state of California, but due to the pandemic, his business suffered and he became unhoused ever since.
(note: A check of the discipline reported by the State Bar show that Sterkin had been a Placerville-based lawyer and ran into trouble, described as “mental health” problems, that caused his license to be suspended.)
However, prosecutor Campbell argued that since Sterkin used a “closed fist” to hit the victims that it “could have” caused great bodily injury. Additionally, Sterkin has a warrant in another state for a kidnapping, and this should be taken into account.
“I didn’t receive any evidence,” Judge Van Aken stated, to say the amount of force would have caused great bodily injury, so she reduced the second count to a misdemeanor. But this was “a serious attack,” she made clear.
Judge Van Aken then called for Sterkin’s second preliminary hearing, for a different matter, to be heard.
Prosecutor Campbell called witness SFPD Officer Josue Gonzalez who, last month, had a call about “an assault,” and found 20 people in front of Ohana Bar surrounding another group of people. There was “one person being held down” by several others, Gonzalez explained to the court.
The person being held down was identified as Sterkin.
“My initial thought was to place the subject under arrest,” he said, and once Sterkin was arrested he claimed that he “didn’t touch the woman, she flew back… not coming in contact with me at all.”
Gonzalez spoke to a few witnesses on the street about what had happened, and one male witness said he was walking to work when he heard a lot of commotion. He saw Sterkin push a woman onto the sidewalk after he yelled at her to “get the f**k out of here.”
She then fell on her back, and her head struck the ground beneath her.
Officer Gonzalez did not speak directly with the female victim and did not see any physical injuries. However, his partner on the scene said “she was bleeding from her head; blood on her jacket” and she was “dazed and confused to the point that she couldn’t remember her address.”
Then, DDA Campbell showed a photograph of a closeup of the victim’s head to Judge Van Aken.
PD Davis ended the morning by cross examining Officer Gonzalez who said Sterkin said “he was homeless” and was “spat on by one subject” on the street. He also told Gonzalez that he did not touch the victim, but she “just fell back on her own.”
The male witness was able to confirm that the victim did “fly back,” but he couldn’t say if Sterkin had actually pushed her.