A jury has rejected prosecutors’ claims that the assault of two Mexican nationals last year was a hate crime by white supremacist skinheads, but local law enforcement officials believe they may have won a more important victory.
Investigators say they now have the names of dozens of members of racist skinhead groups believed to be operating in a city known for tolerance.
District Attorney George Gascón on Thursday hailed the convictions of two suspects in the case — Justin Meskan, 29, and Robert Allen, 39 — on felony assault charges last week and downplayed their acquittal on hate crimes charges. The each men face prison sentences of several years.
The victims, two cousins ages 20 and 21, were attacked outside the Nite Cap bar in the Tenderloin on the night of Nov. 10, 2010. Defense attorneys claimed the incident, which left one of the cousins unconscious in the street, was a drunken brawl.
Prosecutor Victor Hwang said witnesses described hearing someone in the group of four to six attackers yelling “white power” and “Run, you f---ing Mexicans, like you ran across our border.” White supremacist and Nazi paraphernalia was later found in the suspects’ apartment, he said.
Gascón insisted “there was a hate motivation behind the case,” and said the prosecution brought his office more information “about hate and white supremacist activity in the county of San Francisco, which quite frankly, was probably not well known to all of us.”
The gangs are engaged in drug trafficking, identity theft and other crimes and are “a tremendous cause for concern,” Gascón said.
The convictions came after one of the original suspects, Anthony Weston, 33, testified against his friends. Though Weston denied it was a hate crime on the stand, he had earlier pleaded guilty to assault and hate crimes charges in exchange for a sentence of probation.
As part of his plea, Weston agreed to give investigators a list of three white supremacist skinhead gangs active in San Francisco, between 40 and 50 active members, and about 150 associates, prosecutors said.
Gascón’s office is now conducting a more extensive probe into white supremacist activity in The City.
A law enforcement source in the District Attorney’s Office who is familiar with the investigation, but who asked not to be named, said Thursday that the names given by Weston had been independently confirmed by another person familiar with the gangs.
The source said the gangs, made up primarily of parolees from prison, have been in San Francisco since the 1980s but went relatively unnoticed by law enforcement for many years.
“They’re certainly no joke,” the source said. “They do have tentacles that reach all over the place.”