OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A suspect has been arrested in a series of assaults against elderly victims in Oakland's Chinatown, new Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong announced Monday.
The suspect was identified as Yahya Muslim, 28. He was charged with assault, battery, elder abuse and a special allegation of offenses while out on bail, according to Alameda County Sheriff's Office.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office said Muslim also has two prior felony assault convictions.
Just minutes after being sworn in as Oakland's new top cop, Armstrong appeared at a news conference in Chinatown to announce the arrest of Muslim for the assault of a 91-year old man caught on video. He is also accused of assaulting two other elderly individuals the same day.
"Today we're sending a message to those that commit crime in this city that we will pursue you and we will arrest you," said Chief Armstrong. "We all need to band together to take a stand and say this violence is unacceptable."
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said her office is investigating whether the attacks were racially motivated, which could add a hate crime to the charges.
"We work to be a unified community, respectful of the diversity," she said. "But over the years we have seen a spike in crimes, especially violent crimes that are motivated by hate and motivated by aggression."
Facing steep budget cuts, Oakland police say the department is devoting what resources it can including locating a mobile command vehicle in the shopping district. But the community isn't waiting for help. They've formed citizen patrols and a GoFundMe effort has raised more than $50,000 to employ armed security guards.
"Just to try to deflect the attackers," said organizer Jo Jo Au. "You know, if they see something professional like that, they'll be like, maybe I don't want to do that."
Everywhere you look there are murals on walls calling for unity, but O'Malley says the racial aspect of the crimes cannot be ignored.
"Based on the rhetoric we're hearing, particularly linked to the coronavirus, to COVID, to still calling it the 'Chinese Virus' and things like that," said O'Malley. "That fuels hate and it fuels aggression."
But some in the community think it may be simpler than that.
"I think they just take this as an excuse, to do crime," said a man named Jimmy.
So far, Yahya Muslim has been charged with three counts of assault and committing great bodily injury against an elderly person. The D.A. said he already has two prior felony assault convictions.
Police revealed that Muslim has been in custody since Monday -- the day following the Chinatown assaults -- on an unrelated criminal case.
On Saturday, investigators said they believed to have identified a person of interest in the three brutal assaults that occurred in the Oakland's Chinatown last Sunday.
A police spokesperson said that the department was thankful to the community for assisting detectives in identifying a person of interest suspected in the assaults after police released video surveillance and photographs to the community and to the news media.
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