The Seattle Police Department (SPD) Bias Crimes Unit is a model for police agencies around the country in addressing hate crimes. The SPD’s immediate response to a report of a hate crime will be dealt with like any other call. However, if you believe a crime was motivated by your protected status (see below), have the officer include that in his or her report. As Seattle criminal defense attorney Kevin Trombold explains, “Hate crimes in Washington State are surprisingly common. Nobody wants to lose their cool and fight. But if they do, all they need add is some expression of discriminatory language while fighting to bring the attention of law enforcement.”
If the case qualifies as a possible hate crime, it will be forwarded to and followed-up by the Seattle Police Department’s Bias Crimes Unit or by a local SPD precinct detective. Under Washington State law, a hate crime happens when a victim is targeted because of the victim’s protected status for one of the crimes listed here:
- Someone physically injures the targeted victim or another person.
- Someone physically damages or destroys the property of the targeted victim or another person.
- Someone makes threats that cause a person or group to have a reasonable fear of harm to their person(s) or property.
- Even if the victim does not belong to a protected status group, if the victim was targeted because he or she was perceived to belong to that group, the crime is still treated as a hate crime.
A protected class is a group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected from discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of that characteristic. Protected statuses under state law in Washington include race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, and those with mental, physical, or sensory handicaps. Additional protected statuses under Seattle municipal law include homelessness, marital status, age, parental status, gender identity, and political ideology.
HOW DO SEATTLE POLICE CLASSIFY POSSIBLE HATE CRIME INCIDENTS?
Without regard to the level of a hate crime offense, hate crime incidents are a priority for the Seattle Police. Victims are encouraged to call the SPD if an incident is in progress or if you believe that you have been the victim of a hate crime.
Anyone who is charged with a hate crime will need to consult an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney. The Seattle Police Department classifies an alleged hate crime incident into one of three categories depending upon the severity of the allegation:
Malicious harassment: Malicious harassment happens when a suspect is motivated to target a particular person or persons for a crime based on a belief about the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, handicap, homelessness, marital status, age, parental status, gender, or political ideology. Malicious harassment is usually an assault, damage to property, or the threat of harm.
Crimes with bias elements: When biased comments are made by any criminal committing any crime in Seattle, that crime is considered a crime with “bias elements.”
Non-criminal bias incidents: These incidents happen when offensive or derogatory language is hurtful but does not rise to the level of a hate crime and may, in fact, fall under the category of free speech. Still, such comments may generate fear and concern while making a victim feel harassed, offended, or intimidated.
One Seattle hate crime incident recently gained national attention because it was posted on Facebook. King County prosecutors charged Sandra Jametski, 48, with malicious harassment in December for allegedly posting the racially-themed rant back in November. In the video, the narrator is following a female driver, complaining about “Spanish privilege,” and saying the driver and her family don’t belong in the United States. The female voice on the video says, “We don’t drive like you’re in Mexico, lady.”
Prosecutors allege that Jametski made the video as she followed the female driver on her regular daily drive to her son’s school. At the school’s parking lot, Jametski confronted the female driver, threatened to ram her SUV, and even threatened to have the woman deported, all while recording the confrontation on her cellphone. Jametski was arrested by Seattle Police on December 3rd.
HOW DID ONE PROSECUTOR CHARACTERIZE THIS INCIDENT?
Bail was set high – $500,000 – partly because Jametski’s criminal record includes convictions for assault and DUI, according to King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Mike Hogan, who has prosecuted hate crimes for three decades. But the high bail is also a response to what Hogan called “an attack on the entire Latino community.” At her arraignment on December 15th, Jametski pleaded not guilty to malicious harassment. Superior Court Judge Julie Spector denied defense motions to reduce the charge and the bail amount.
Jametski’s alleged victim told the Seattle Times that she originally did not call the police because Jametski had disappeared by the time she had collected her son from the school’s parking lot. Later that evening, however, a friend sent her a link to what appears to be Jametski’s Facebook page – and the video. “She knew our house, she knew our cars, she knew where my brother goes to school,” the alleged victim’s daughter told the Times. “Why else film it live and put it on Facebook unless she was planning to do something or riling somebody up to do something?”
Simply calling someone a derogatory name – even if the person on the receiving end belongs to a protected status group – is not necessarily a hate crime. If someone uses derogatory words but does not place another person in a reasonable fear of harm, those derogatory words alone do not constitute malicious harassment. In many instances, derogatory words alone will be considered free speech that is protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
WHEN IS A CRIME NOT A HATE CRIME?
When someone is a crime victim but the crime was not motivated by hate for the victim’s protected status group, the crime will not be charged as malicious harassment and is not considered a hate crime. If you believe that you have been a target of hate but no directly enforceable action can be taken by the police, you may have the option of bringing a legal action against the perpetrator in civil court.
Of course, not everyone who is charged with a hate crime is guilty. If you’re charged with a hate crime in this state, you’re going to need the assistance of an experienced defense attorney who understands the law and knows how to conduct an aggressive defense on your behalf. Hate crime convictions can result in serious criminal penalties, including incarceration, but beyond the criminal sentencing, a person’s reputation and future can be irreparably damaged by a conviction for a hate crime.