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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Pacific NW

WSU car tagging incident termed a felony hate crime

By Josh Babcock Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The Pullman Police Department is calling upon the public to help find the person or people behind the anti-gay slurs tagged on a vehicle belonging to a gay Washington State University student Wednesday night.

Police are labeling the incident as a hate crime, meaning the perpetrator could face felony charges.

According to police, the student, John Kraus, found the words “FAGGOT,” “Die Fag!” and “Go 2 Hell” written in red paint on his white Kia sedan Thursday morning.

“In this case we really don’t have any leads,” Sgt. Jake Opgenorth said. “That’s why we put something out to the public is because this is a serious crime – it’s a hate crime, it’s not just property damage.”

Opgenorth said the attack on Kraus’ sexuality is only the second hate crime he’s been assigned to investigate since joining the department 24 years ago. He said hate crimes in Pullman are a rarity, and only a handful are reported annually.

“I haven’t investigated a lot of these,” Opgenorth said. “I can only think of one that comes in mind.”

Opgenorth said tagging someone’s car with paint would ordinarily be considered a gross misdemeanor, but because of the nature of the incident the stakes have been raised.

“The hate crime we are investigating is technically malicious harassment and that is a Class C felony,” he said. “… Because of the tone of what was written, it’s a Class C felony,” Opgenorth said.

Class C felonies are punishable by up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines in Washington.

Police say they need help from the public to find who is behind the act.

“We have a diverse community and I truly believe our community is mostly accepting of everyone,” Opgenorth said. “… Most likely someone knows who did it and we need someone to call and point us in the right direction, give us a name.”

The incident has also caught the attention of WSU President Kirk Schulz. He addressed the incident in a letter to members of the university community.

“Regardless of how you feel about the election results, I want to remind you that WSU embraces diversity, inclusion, and opportunity for all. The foundation of our university is built on those principles. We do not – and will not – tolerate expressions of hate, prejudice, or injustice,” Schulz wrote to faculty, staff and students.

“I have interacted during the past several days through social media, email, and in person with many faculty, staff, and students. Let me assure all of you – as your president, I will continue to show my strong support for students of color, undocumented students, women, and members of the LGBTQ community. We are unconditionally committed to creating and maintaining a learning environment where all students – regardless of race, gender, religion, or nationality – can learn in a safe environment conducive to success,” he went on to write.

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