Multnomah County Prosecutors Announce Hard Line on Anti-Asian Hate Crimes

Mike Schmidt’s announcement comes in the wake of a killing spree at massage spas in an Atlanta suburb.

Gateway Transit Center. (Reid Kille)

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt on Wednesday condemned the March 16 shooting spree at three separate Atlanta-area massage businesses that left eight dead, including six women of Asian descent.

Schmidt also announced that his office successfully argued on Tuesday to keep 38-year-old Daniel Hutchens behind bars as he awaits trial for charges of bias crime and harassment after he allegedly assaulted an Asian American man in December.

"The heinous murders in Atlanta are an unspeakable tragedy," Schmidt said in a statement. "While there's still much we don't know about these murders, we do know this—six of the eight murder victims are Asian American. Attacks on Asian communities are growing nationally. Many of these instances are rooted in hate—including some of the cases being prosecuted by this office."

Details in the Atlanta shootings remain limited. Investigators have not ruled out racial bias as a motive of the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, who is white.

Other Portland leaders voiced their sorrow and dismay Wednesday, including all of the Portland City Council.

The slayings have raised nationwide alarm about a rise in xenophobic attacks. They also follow an apparent rise in anti-Asian crimes in the Portland area, previously reported by WW, including the shattering of windows at Asian-owned restaurants in the Jade District last month and a January assault where a man kicked an Asian American mother and her teenage son in the shins on a TriMet bus, allegedly proclaiming that "all Chinese persons have the virus," prosecutors said.

Schmidt today highlighted Hutchens' case, which was argued March 16, as an example of his office taking such allegations seriously. (The DA's office is under duress on multiple fronts as its critics accuse it of being soft on crime.)

Hutchens is accused of walking up to another man, whom he didn't know, on a MAX platform in the Kenton neighborhood in North Portland. "Are you Chinese?" Hutchens allegedly asked. Then, prosecutors say, he punched the man in the face.

At the Tuesday hearing, Hongcheng Zhao, president and chairperson of the Oregon Chinese Coalition, asked for Hutchens to remain in custody until his trial.

"With heartbreaking stories documenting Asian hate crimes appearing more frequently," Zhao said, "the Asian community is being fced with the impact not only of the virus itself, but also the racial ignorance and inequality, in addition to the judicial system not doing enough on pressing the charges against those who clearly break the laws.

"As a community, Asians and Asian Americans have been harassed, scapegoated, and simply devastated by the anti-Asian sentiment which has been elevated by this pandemic," he added.

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