On Wednesday night, we received a tip from Brian Hill with Castro Community on Patrol about a stabbing incident unfolding at Jane Warner Plaza.
Upon arriving at the scene, the F-Market Muni was backed up and SFPD vehicles were around the area, with some officers inspecting items strewn in front of the bus stop on 17th Street.
We spoke with Nolan Westhoek, an employee at Orphan Andy's, who called police when the incident occurred around 8:45pm.
"Two seemingly homeless people walked up, one taller man and one shorter man," Westhoek explained. "I noticed that the shorter man had a stab wound to his neck that was bleeding. He was starting to act dizzy." According to police, the suspect, a 52-year-old man, had walked up to the victim, a 41-year-old man, and told him he was going to kill him, then stabbed him in the neck with a knife.
Westhoek called 911 and the victim sat down at one of the tables at Orphan Andy's while another employee helped apply pressure to the wound, which was continuing to bleed.
As they waited for police and an ambulance to arrive, Westhoek told us that the suspect remained in the area. "He stayed outside as though he was unfazed by the incident, and was pacing back and forth by the Muni stop with a knife in his hand."
At one point, the suspect approached the doors to Orphan Andy's and was staring in at the victim, still holding the knife. Employees locked the door and another man in the diner stood inside the door, attempting to prevent any issues. The suspect then returned to the Muni stop.
Witness James Vargas, who also called 911 and was eating at the table where the victim sat down, said the suspect seemed intoxicated, and shouting that he was "cracked out" and holding his knife up to threaten other people outside.
"When police arrived, they had shotguns and the suspect immediately dropped to the ground and they arrested him," Westhoek explained. Vargas noted that the weapon recovered at the scene was a folding knife about four inches in length.
Police report that the victim was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Update, 7:15pm: We caught up with Captain Daniel Perea of SFPD’s Mission Station to get more information regarding last night’s Jane Warner Plaza stabbing.
First and foremost, “the victim in stable condition now,” said Perea.
According to the police captain, the stabbing was a completely random act of violence.
“My understanding is that the victim and the friend he was with, who became a witness unfortunately, were there minding their own business when this guy walks over and he’s basically shouting and yelling at nobody in particular, which indicates maybe he’s having some mental health issues,” said Perea. “Then suddenly, he turns and sees these two guys and for whatever reason, his attention is now on them and he goes after one of the victims so suddenly that they don’t have an opportunity to retreat or defend themselves or do anything.”
The suspect, named by Perea as 52-year-old male Mark Arroyo, then pulled out a knife and stabbed the victim in the neck.
When asked about the Arroyo, who is in custody and who has been charged with attempted murder, Perea said that he didn’t know anything about the suspect’s housing situation. “What I do know,” said the captain, “is I’m glad the victim is okay, and I’m glad that the officers were so close so they could intervene as quickly as they did.”
The officers who responded to the 911 call managed to take the suspect into custody without incident. “We’re trained to de-escalate things and talk to people and recognize when people are having mental health crises,” said Perea. “But in the moment, [last night’s incident was] a clear and present threat to [the officer’s] safety.”
“[The suspect] had already attacked somebody, right there, knife still in his hand, and fortunately he surrendered the knife, got down on the ground, and followed orders,” Perea said. He was taken into custody, and now he’ll have to have his day in court.”
Perea stressed that overall, the Castro is "a pretty safe place.”
“We have our fights and somebody grabs somebody’s iPhone and that kind of thing. It’s a pretty safe place, so this [stabbing] is a pretty concerning incident for the neighborhood.”
When asked about safety specifically at Jane Warner Plaza, and in light of another stabbing that took place in the plaza last year, Perea told us that he’s working to increase the frequency of his officer’s presence around the neighborhood.
“I’m trying to increase the frequency of the presence of cops out there on the street interacting with people,” Perea said. “I think the way Jane Warner Plaza looks now opposed to the way it looked when I first took over a couple of years ago, there’s a night and day difference there. Part of that is about presence, part of that is about the Castro Business District and Castro Merchants’ Association doing things to help activate that space, and certainly with a lot of support and attention from Supervisor Wiener talking about the issues there.”
Perea went onto say that “it’s a public space and people are free to gather there. Sometimes we get people to say ‘we don’t like the way those people look.’ For us, it’s not about appearance or someone’s perceptions of somebody else: it’s about their activity. Are they doing something that’s illegal? Are they smoking in the plaza, which you can’t do. Is the dog off leash? Do they have open containers?”It’s about “striking a balance between public safety and also preserving the rights of people’s constitutional rights,” Perea said. “People have the right to gather in a public place. We’re working on that and I’m constantly doing my best to increase the frequency and ramp up our engagement out there.”