King County sheriff’s detectives are investigating the alleged assault of Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta as a possible hate crime after he reported being attacked Saturday night by an unidentified man apparently angered about Matta’s policies supporting Latino immigrants.
Matta told deputies that the man in his 60s approached him from behind while the mayor was inside the beer garden at the annual Olde Burien Block Party, according to sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ryan Abbott.
The man allegedly put his arm around Matta’s neck and pulled him down, scratching Matta’s arm on a fence post and drawing blood in the process.
“He came around the back, took his arm, wrapped it around my neck and brought me down and started talking in my ear,” Matta told The Seattle Times on Sunday.
The man threatened Matta’s life and whispered, “ ‘We’re not going to let you Latino illegals take over our city,’ ” Matta said.
The man left before police arrived. Matta later reported the incident to deputies at the event, and also gave a formal statement to a detective on Monday, Abbott said.
Detectives are still trying to identify the suspect, though at least one witness has provided a possible first name for the man, Abbott said. The case is being investigated as possible malicious harassment, under the state’s hate-crime statute.
Matta told police he previously encountered the man during two separate conversations in recent weeks in which the man criticized the mayor’s policies toward immigrants, Abbott said.
Matta, elected to the City Council in 2017 after a racially charged campaign and later chosen by council members as Burien’s first Latino mayor, has been a vocal supporter of Burien as a so-called sanctuary city, or jurisdiction that limits its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement actions.
On Sunday, Matta described the alleged assault on his Facebook page, saying he would seek to bring his assailant to justice.
“I was physically assaulted, and verbally threatened by a male who was upset because Burien is a Sanctuary City, and I am a latino male Mayor,” his post says. “I will not tolerate being threatened by anyone. You have the right to vote and voice your concerns, however when you put your hands on me. I will press charges on you, and have our legal system take care of you.”
At a media briefing Monday at Burien City Hall, Matta said he reported the incident to the police to serve as a model to others in the Latino community who may be afraid to report instances of threats or assault.
“You have the right to voice your opinion,” he said. “We should never be afraid of being assaulted for exercising those rights.”
Matta’s two young children and Burien Police Chief Theodore Boe were also at the briefing. The city contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for police services.
Boe said Matta has not requested extra security, but it would be provided if necessary.
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