Yeiner Pérez and his girlfriend, during a show in San Francisco last March. Photo by Marta Franco

Sitting in a jail facility in a restricted area at San Francisco General Hospital, Yeiner Pérez Garizabalo looks sad. His hair is shorter and he looks much thinner than he did in the “naked BART man” video that went viral earlier this month.

“This is not what I learned theater for,” he said, speaking in Spanish on the phone through a window.

Pérez is under observation at the hospital after he was arrested on sexual battery and false imprisonment charges. In a video leaked online, Pérez is seen doing handstands and backflips inside the 16th Street BART station and chasing several passengers while naked.

To this day, Pérez doesn’t completely remember what happened on May 10.

“I was giving out flyers of the show, and somehow I started thinking that my friends were pulling my leg and everybody there was pretending,” he said. “And I don’t know how, but I got naked and I was performing and I saw the people taking photos of me and I thought, ‘I’m at the Cirque du Soleil, I’m the great Yeiner, from Colombia’.”

Pérez was scheduled to perform with his troupe, ClownSnotBombs, at Stage Werx Theater that night. The group had been rehearsing a show titled “A Spaghetti Western” for five months.

Pérez and his girlfriend, Mani Ibarra, were part of an acrobatic arts crew in the show. But the day before, the couple had a fight and Ibarra left the house they shared with members of the circus.

Seeing that his girlfriend hadn’t shown up, Pérez left the theater. That night, the troupe went on with an adapted version of the show, not knowing that a few blocks away, Pérez was getting arrested.

“She had left, but that is not the only reason,” he said. Pérez hadn’t slept or eaten for four days when the BART incident happened, he said. “I just wanted to work. I wasn’t aware there was a problem with me.”

“We had no idea,” said Ben Goldstein, a musician with ClownSnotBombs. “We just knew that he disappeared and we had to redo our show.”

At the BART station

On the afternoon of May 10, Perez walked into the BART station at 16th and Mission streets. He undressed and started chasing passengers. A BART operator took out her cell phone and started recording.

In the video, a woman Pérez was chasing is heard screaming for help. The operator then opens her booth and tells her to get inside; meanwhile Pérez was doing handstands on the gates.

He was arrested that day and taken to San Francisco County Jail. No charges were filed and he was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because he had overstayed his visa. ICE agents let him go with a GPS ankle bracelet.

About a month later, the District Attorney’s office filed charges against Pérez for the May 10 incident, and during a scheduled interview with ICE agents police arrested him. He was charged with two felony counts of false imprisonment, four misdemeanor counts of battery and one misdemeanor count of sexual battery.

District Attorney’s spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman said that although no one was physically injured at the BART station, people would probably be affected by the incident.

“I’m sure they’ll have emotional distress,” she said.

But Pérez’s friends say they know he wasn’t trying to attack anybody. “He’s a strong man. If he had wanted to hurt someone, people would have been hurt,” said Goldstein. “He didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

On June 18, Pérez appeared in court. Judge Brendan Conroy kept his bail set at $100,000 and set the preliminary hearing for July 18.

Politically motivated?

The video of the incident was leaked as BART workers were in contract negotiations that led to a strike.

On June 18, the same day Pérez appeared in court, BART workers sent a letter to negotiators declaring that they were facing assaults and other violent attacks at work. They accused BART officials of not wanting to bargain over worker safety issues. The letter was published in SF Weekly.

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said that safety has always been “a top priority” for BART. Unions were trying to divert attention from the negotiations about increasing pension and medical costs, she said.

“They are paying $92 a month for healthcare – the average worker pays four times as much as that,” Trost said before the strike was voted.

She said she didn’t know if the video was brought up during the negotiations, but Perez’s friends and fellow troupe members believe the video has been used as a political tool.

“The whole reason this video came out is so BART [workers] could get more money in their contract,” said Kristen Parks, producer and performer of the troupe and housemate of Pérez. “The incident happened a month ago.”

History of difficulties

“They took me sedated to the hospital,” Pérez said. “That night I woke up, still thinking that I had to go perform for the show.” The day after, he was taken back to jail. “This is not what I came to San Francisco for,” he said.

His father, Carlos Pérez, said this wasn’t the first time his son has suffered a crisis. In Colombia in 2007, Pérez tried to commit suicide.

“He went to a hospital and got treatment,” his father said in a phone interview in Spanish. “He was on medication for a while and then stopped. He was fine, but sometimes he would get very depressed.” Carlos Pérez said his son was deeply affected by the death of his mother when he was 12 years old, and that may have been the start of his mental problems.

Pérez’s girlfriend knew he had been on medication and stopped because it would make him numb and unable to perform. “He would say, ‘That’s why I do theater, it’s my medicine,’ ” she said.

“The doctors said it may be bipolarity,” Pérez said in Spanish. “I’m on medication, but it’s not helping. I’m all alone and I’m very sad. I need to train, and they don’t let me do it here.”

But weeks before the incident, Pérez had started behaving in unusual ways—so unusual, in fact, that his roommates ended up asking him to leave after the BART incident, but not just because of it. His behavior was also the determining factor in the fight with his girlfriend.

“He was very altered. I was surprised, I was wondering what was happening. He was aggressive with everybody and, at the same time, he was working very hard,” Ibarra said in Spanish.

Give love and receive love’

Pérez’s girlfriend, his father and his friends describe him as a loving man who worked hard on his art. He was an athlete and never did any drugs, apart from smoking marijuana, they all said.

After he was released in May, Pérez and his girlfriend moved to a house in Oakland.

“I immediately liked both of them,” said Nicolas Bell, one of the roommates. “He told me about his immigrant status and that he had been arrested for something like disturbing the peace, but I just thought he was doing some performance and they found out that his visa had expired,” he said.

Pérez’s new roommates, who didn’t know about the BART incident, didn’t notice anything unusual about him.

“I feel their presence in my life was a gift,” Bell said.

After the video was released, Pérez’s roommates and members of ClownSnotBombs sat down with him and decided that he should get medical help. For the first time since the incident, he agreed. But, before he was able to do that, Pérez got arrested.

In a statement, ClownSnotBombs expressed their solidarity with those impacted by this incident and their opposition to violence. But they also questioned the way news media treated the incident and the way he was released from custody after his first arrest without, as they said, getting a psychiatric evaluation.

“The police should take more responsibility for releasing persons who may be a danger to themselves and others back on to the street,” the statement read.

In Colombia, his father said he hopes that his son won’t get deported and will receive mental care. “He’s an excellent person,” he said. “This was a moment of madness.”

“I just want to get out, do circus and theater and give back to the community. That’s why I do it, to give love and receive love,” Pérez said.

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Marta came from Zaragoza, Spain to master her English but everyone she speaks to wants to practice Spanish. After just a few months in the Mission, she already feels at home. In her free time she can be found reading books, watching movies, roller skating or just enjoying a good meal, an interesting conversation or a sunny walk around the neighborhood.

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  1. Clearly he was suffering from a manic episode. As someone with bipolar, I know the signs – conflict with people, loss of memory, getting naked in public, lack of sleep for days, being extra productive, grandiosity, and more.

    He also has a mental health history and doctors diagnosed him with bipolar.

    He should never have been charged, but a good defense lawyer ought to get him released into medical care (which he needs) as he is not criminally responsible for his actions while he was manic.

    1. Agree he was clearly manic and shouldn’t have been charged. He needs to stay on his meds, though.

      1. Just because someone was having a psychological break or a manic episode doesn’t mean that assault isn’t assault. This man pushed a woman and an old man down, and threatened others in the station. Now, if he wants to plead insanity or temporary insanity that is his call…but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any consequences for his actions.

      1. First of all, it’s “psychobabble.” Second, there’s nothing “verbal” about this article and comment, unless you’re hearing voices in your head. Third, you’re aware your entire comment is near-incoherent and displays to the rest of us that your snap judgments are pretty awful, right?

        Lastly, your linked article doesn’t deny the reality that manic episodes exist and this incident conforms to them. It’s observable behavior, dude; it’s not like manic episodes are magic unicorns. I’ve seen many of them in many patients. Call them useful or not useful as diagnostic tools if you want, but they exist.

    2. My siblings and I were beaten to a pulp for years by my bipolar father. We were placed in foster care on more than one occasion because of it.

      You may have a real illness, but the violence and pain that an aggressive mentally ill person causes to others is very real. Perez should absolutely be charged and held to account for what he’s done.

      Also, he said he was off his meds when he did this. Mentally ill people can’t just choose to go off their meds, do something crazy, and then expect to get off because of their mental illness. Personal responsibility.

  2. Personally, I don’t care how the Mission Local tries to spin it, If I was there that morning, and I usually am, I would have kicked his butt so hard, he was too disoriented to fight, and grabbing him by the ‘fro and throwing his waifish body would be easy.

    Let’s just hope this guy never runs into me or touches my little girls.

    1. ThTs right, Lets just hope you never run into him; he would probably fucking kill you very easily. He is an exceedingly fit acrobatic athlete. I wouldn’t want to fuck with one of those personally.

  3. I wonder if he’s also schizophrenic, having psychotic episodes, etc. It’s really sad, because he’s obviously very talented…but I saw that video, saw how terrified everyone was, especially that woman he accosted. He’s obviously a danger to others, if not also himself, when he’s unmedicated, and unfortunately no one can make him stay on his meds. So, what we’re left with is a person who shouldn’t be amongst the general population, and should be institutionalized (and as part of his treatment, they should continue to let him do his acrobatics, since physical exertion often helps with mental illness, especially depression). Then there’s the issue of his immigration status. This is a tough one. I’m not sure he wouldn’t be better off with his family in Colombia, although I have no idea what mental health services are available there. But on the other hand, this country already can’t afford to take proper care of the mentally ill who need a lot of services who are American citizens. It’s a further burden on our already bloated system; We cannot afford to care for the entire world, and barely skim the top of the problems we have already in this country. It’s a tough situation. I wish there was less American money going to foreign wars, and more going towards healthcare for those who dwell in this country. I can’t help but think how much more that would benefit society overall…because at the end of the day, we cannot let suffering people like Mr. Pérez slip through the cracks of the system. His life, and the lives of so many others like him depend on it.

    1. “During severe manic or depressed episodes, some people with bipolar disorder may have symptoms that overwhelm their ability to deal with everyday life, and even reality. This inability to distinguish reality from unreality results in psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices, paranoia, visual hallucinations, and false beliefs of special powers or identity. They may have distressing periods of great sadness alternating with euphoric optimism (a natural high) and/or rage that is not typical of the person during periods of wellness. These abrupt shifts of mood interfere with reason, logic and perception to such a drastic degree that those affected may be unaware of the need for help. However, if left untreated, bipolar disorder can seriously affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life.”

    1. It will be wonderful when Mission Local reports that he has been deported for his criminal activities.

  4. Thank you so much for actually doing interviews. The ‘blog’ news SF things are just horrible. I wish I
    could help missionlocal with money so you could do more.
    We ‘all’ had to look at the video at first and freak out. Well, of course!….but as the other ‘sf’ blogs kept posting snarky and stupid variations, and comment sections filled of tough guys ranting to ‘hunt him down’….only a few commenters said…”uh…that looks like some kind of really bad mental breakdown.”
    With austerity cuts to all state budgets, we are going to see more and more really bad mental states going on, and with the coming depression it’s going to get even worse. We need to be citizens and human beings and come together. Fight together and help those we can. Mutual Aid. I also think what his wacky circus friends said from the beginning, was thoughtful and compassionate. Thank you. Great you called his dad. He must be so damn worried.

  5. There should be an inquiry into his immigration status. If he is found to be in the country illegally, he should be turned over to the USCIS and deported. This should be standard operating procedure for anyone who is arrested in San Francisco.

  6. There should be an inquiry into his immigration status. If he is found to be in yhe country illegally then he should be turned over to the USCIS and deported. This should be standard operating procedure for anyone who is arrested in San Faancisco.

  7. He sexually assaulted someone and physically assaulted others. I don’t care what excuses his roommates, coworkers and family say.

    He should serve time and be deported.

    Don’t be a naïve bumpkin him being up for days without eating means he was definitely on drugs.

    Get him the hell out of here!!

    1. Clearly you have no familiarity with bipolar. He needn’t have been on drugs at all.

  8. There is no spin here.

    Jei is not a criminal, he has a very serious health problem and Marta has done an excellent job of gathering the facts and reporting them without sensationalizing. Great job Marta and thank you so much!

    Ben Goldstein

    1. Great information Ben. I wish more people would educate themselves rather than trying to say he was on drugs or other untrue things. It is so obvious to me that he was having a manic episode and that is why he wasn’t sleeping. I hope he gets the help he needs.

      1. You’re ridiculous. Having a manic episode is no excuse. Especially if you’re refusing your medication. There are ways to deal with manic episodes and he should be punished. He assaulted a lot of people. If he is treating his previously diagnosed condition casually he deserves a wake up call.

    2. if having mental health issues excuses those who commit violent crimes from being labeled ‘criminals’, then there are in fact very few criminals in America. let’s open up the prisons and let out all the violent offenders so they can get all the (non-existent) state funded mental counseling they need…

  9. “Pérez’s new roommates, who didn’t know about the BART incident, didn’t notice anything unusual about him.”

    Shouldn’t you at least Google someone before allowing them to move into your home?

  10. “A BART operator took out her cell phone and started recording.”

    That pretty much sums up the BART problem right there.

  11. “Shouldn’t you at least Google someone before allowing them to move into your home?”

    His name wasn’t in the papers until a month after the incident and the BART video was released.

    You would know this if you read the story.

    1. Snarkery will get you nowhere, especially in situations like this where you’re just plain wrong. Although not charged by the DA until June, Perez was arrested at the scene of the May 10 incident, and news of the arrest was reported in the local media well before June.

  12. I don’t know what the answer is. Mental illness is a terrible thing. I feel badly for the people he terrified – I know it will be a source of continuing fear for some, or all, of them. I also feel sorry for Yeiner. Nobody asks for mental illness. It destroys lives. I hope he can be stabilized & somehow made safe for himself & others.

  13. Maybe if we let them vote and gave them free healthcare we could attract more mentally ill, criminal illegal immigrants in this country.

    This is SF, if little old ladies don’t like being accosted by naked assailants they can go to Mexico or Columbia or Ireland!

  14. We all have problems some much worse than others, as this guy demonstrates. We cant even take care of our own citizens, why should this joker get preferential treatment because he can do back flips for a clown troop. Sorry, adios see ya back in Bogata!

  15. On another note, why does this so-called Newslab for Everyone make it so hard to find a link to leave a message or tip for any editorial staff? I am wondering why the second gun murder (he wasn’t moving, but who knows) this year to happen in front of Double Dutch is going unreported? That place is a chancre on the lip of the North Mission. Sick of the bar’s ownership and the gangsterism and the click-clack mob it attracts.

  16. People can be mentally ill. This guy seems bipolar. Many mentally ill try to self-medicate with pot, but it only worsens things. Also, pot used by male teens has been researched as correlated to young adult male schizophrenia. So the whole pot connection is troubling, although people claim no damage/harm by pot. He’s here illegally. He should be home with his family. He can do his performance art there. Best wishes. Goodbye. We don’t need more drama.

    1. Yeah, because it’s the press’s fault that he decided to go off his meds, stop eating for a few days and assault people who were just trying to ride public transportation! Stupid press!

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