Frustrations over lack of hate crime charges in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District attack

SEATTLE — King County prosecutors are not filing hate crime charges in an attack that happened Feb. 25 in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.

The victim, Northshore teacher Noriko Nasu, says she’s still struggling with daily pain and trauma from the assault. But the current decision not to file hate crime charges for the attacker has her feeling victimized again.

“He knocked me unconscious, leaving me with fractures in the nose and cheek,” Nasu said during a press conference in Renton on Monday. The press conference brought leaders across Washington together to condemn hate against the Asian community.

Now Nasu and many others want to know why prosecutors are not filing hate crime charges.

“I’m still having persistent migraines, dizziness and brain fog to a point where I can barely function. However, this pain was nothing compared to what came next,” Nasu said.

The suspect, 41-year-old Sean J. Holdip, is currently facing two counts of second-degree assault for first attacking Nasu, then her boyfriend. The sentence for those charges could be as little as 12 months in custody.

“The case was a vicious and unprovoked attack on two strangers,” prosecutors said in charging documents. “The Defendant watched the two victims leaving their car before he began his strategic, surprise attack. The Defendant targeted the woman first. He violently swung a white sock filled with two hard objects (e.g. rocks), directly at the woman’s face,” the documents said.

Nasu believes the suspect’s charges don’t match the severity of the crime.

“The prosecuting attorney office’s hesitancy and inability to prosecute this as a hate crime is much more hurtful than the attack itself,” she said.

“A non-Asian person came to a neighborhood known for its Asian population with a weapon already prepared. He stood in (a) corner waiting for the victim to arrive. When they did, he went out of his way to avoid a non-Asian male in order to strike an Asian female and tried to walk away,” Nasu said.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office said filing hate crime charges can be difficult in some circumstances, because motive must be proved before prosecutors can file those charges.

“This isn’t a question of whether or not we believe the victim. We do. It’s a question of what we’re able to prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

McNerthney said the Seattle Police Department’s crimes unit is still investigating, and hate crime charges could be added. He said potential evidence discovered on social media or certain admissions after the crime are some examples of what could bring hate crime charges.

However, even if hate crime charges are later added and Holdip is found guilty, it would not add prison time to Holdip’s sentence, because the two second-degree assault charges carry longer sentences.

Nasu said that piece of information was “even more shocking.”

“What is the message here? Does the legal system have any real interest in protecting the Asian community from hate crimes? I don’t think so, and I’m not the only one,” she said.

McNerthney said reviewing sentencing for hate crimes is something the prosecutor’s office would be open to doing, but ultimately it is up to lawmakers to decide how much prison time is associated with each type of crime. “They’re responsible for setting how long a sentence is. But we place an emphasis on prosecuting hate crimes, and we take them very, very seriously, because they’re really some of the worst cases that we see in King County,” McNerthney said.

As for the second-degree assault charges, McNerthney said a first-degree charge typically involves permanent, disabling injuries.

“We can still modify the charges to first degree. That depends on what additional medical records we get from police investigators,” McNerthney said.

Based the current charges, Nasu is also worried the suspect will be released in as little as 12 months if convicted.

“Since that attack. I haven’t really gone out. I haven’t gone back to Chinatown. I am thinking when the suspect — when he is out of prison, I will probably have to change my name, change my work location and move,” Nasu said.

The King County Prosecutors Office said they do plan to argue Nasu’s injuries were excessive enough to be considered an “aggravated factor”, which would give a judge the discretion to sentence Holdip to up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty.

State lawmakers did attempt to pass a stronger hate crimes law earlier this year, but House Bill 1017 died in the house.

The bill would have added hate crimes to the list of “crimes against persons,” which would have increased penalties, among other changes.

It would have also added hate crimes to the list of “aggravating circumstances” which can be used to allow a judge to go above the standard range during sentencing.