Suspect pleads not guilty in East Palo Alto church hall attack

A Tongan man accused of trying to slit a fellow parishioner’s throat while she was eating in their East Palo Alto church’s dining hall pleaded not guilty to a handful of charges Wednesday, according to San Mateo County prosecutors.

Folauhola Okalani Fiefia, 29, is accused of the unprovoked attack and was charged with elder abuse and assault by means of force likely to cause great bodily injury, among other charges.

Fiefia allegedly walked up to the 65-year-old while she was eating dinner, grabbed her hair, pulled her head back and tried to slit her throat with a steak knife, according to prosecutors.

The woman was able to grab the knife with both hands and suffered several deep cuts to her hands and fingers.

Fiefia then allegedly kicked the woman in the face and neck after she fell to the ground, prosecutors said.

Before he could do any more damage, several church members stepped in to subdue Fiefia, who only knows the woman because the two attend Penieli Church on Bell Street in East Palo Alto, according to prosecutors.

Penieli Church is a Christian church with a largely Tongan congregation.

There is no known motive for the attack, prosecutors said. Fiefia’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 10 at 9 a.m. and he remains in custody on $125,000 bail.