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"Proving hate crimes means proving motivation, officials say"

"Although Kitsap County residents regularly file complaints with the Sheriff’s Department alleging hate crimes, few claims make their way to convictions. A hate crime is defined as an offense committed against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by the offender’s bias against race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender. Convictions rely on proving offenders acted on their bias when they committed their crimes. To prove that, prosecutors and police officers must “get into the heads” of the criminals, said Kitsap County Sheriff Department Chief of Detectives Mike Davis.Hate crime complaints to the county increased over the past few years, and county Prosecutor Russ Hauge said his office has a few cases pending. Fifteen people reported hate crimes in 1997, followed by 17 in 1998. So far this year, the sheriff’s office has not tabulated complaints.It has, however, received a number of complaints. Here are two:• This summer, a mother complained her half-black son suffered an assault after a game of pick-up baseball at Rotary Field in Port Orchard. The boy had been playing with two friends while three white boys from Belfair played nearby. When his two friends decided to go home, he approached the three boys and asked if he could play with them.The boys responded with an onslaught of racial slurs, and eventually threatened to beat the boy up with their baseball bat. He fled the field for a nearby wooded area, where he hid until the trio found him. At that point, shouting racial slurs, two of the white boys pinned his arms down while the third hit him once in the head.• In January, an East Bremerton woman complained her neighbor, who she had an anti-harrassment order against, poured a solvent on the hood, roof and passenger-side of her car. She felt he poured the solvent on her car because she is a lesbian. No one witnessed the actual solvent-pouring and the neighbor insisted he did not do it.Davis said to keep in mind that people who file reports often endure a number of assaults before stepping up and filing a complaint. “A lot of it is not reported. ... People are some ways not aware of the damage that is done by hate crimes, that it’s a lot deeper damage that is done. (Malicious harrassment) intimidates members of the community and leaves them feeling vulnerable and unprotected.”At the same time, representatives from the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office say getting a conviction under hate crime laws is difficult. “We have to understand that although the motivation behind the crime may be ... one’s ethnic background, it’s very hard to prove,” Hauge said.“The majority of the crimes we have that are referred to us as hate crimes, we classify as malicious mischief, assault or a variety of things we can get a conviction on,” Hauge said.Sometimes hate on the part of a suspect is apparent, Hauge said, but “what we can’t prove is the motivation behind that conduct ... was driven by that hate.”"

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