A Chinese immigrant who was brutally attacked in April while collecting cans in East Harlem has died of his injuries, and his case is now deemed a homicide, New York City police said Saturday.
Yao Pan Ma, 61, died Dec. 31, police said. The attack drew national attention as part of a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in New York and around the country. Jarrod Powell, 49, of New York City, was previously charged with attempted murder, felony assault and hate crime charges in the case, which remains under investigation.
A family representative said the charges against Powell should now be enhanced.
“We’re calling on the District Attorney’s Office to upgrade the charges to murder now,” Karlin Chan, a community activist in New York City and a spokesman for Ma’s family, told The Associated Press. “We're fighting for justice and I hope (Powell) never walks the streets as a free man. He needs to pay for what he did."
The Legal Aid Society, which previously represented Powell, said he is no longer a client. A message was left seeking comment with another attorney listed in court records as Powell's lawyer.
Powell attacked Ma from behind, knocking him to the ground and repeatedly kicking his head before fleeing the scene, prosecutors say. Surveillance video released by the police appears to show an attacker stomping on Ma's head.
Chan said Ma never regained consciousness after the attack and his condition continued to deteriorate over time. Ma was moved in and out of multiple facilities during the past eight months, ultimately dying in a long-term care center run by The New Jewish Home, Chan said.
A funeral is being planned for sometime next week.
A police detective said in a criminal complaint that Powell admitted to attacking an Asian man at the approximate time and location of the attack on Ma, stating he did so because the man had robbed him the day before.
Chan, however, said the men had never met before.
Ma and his wife- - who Chan said is “devastated” by what happened to her husband — immigrated to the U.S. in October 2018 from China, where Ma was a dim sum chef. After arriving in the U.S., Ma obtained work as a general kitchen worker at a Chinese restaurant, making pastries and performing other kitchen tasks. However, when the pandemic hit, Ma lost his job when the restaurant closed during lockdown. He hadn't worked long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits, Chan said.
That prompted Ma and his wife, who also lost her job as a home health care attendant, to collect returnable bottles and cans to generate extra money for food, Chan said.
“They were recent immigrants,” he said. “They really didn't have any savings.”
The couple have two adult children, a son and daughter, who still live in China. Prior to the pandemic, Chan said the couple lost their Chinatown apartment in December 2019 to fire and had to move in with relatives.