A 28-year-old Seattle man was charged Thursday with two counts of committing a hate crime, accused of chasing an Asian couple in Ballard while yelling slurs at them, according to King County prosecutors.
Charging papers say David Altomare is an experienced martial-arts practitioner who is under investigation for multiple other violent and harassing acts targeting people he perceives to be Asian. Seattle police have not drawn a definitive link between Altomare and bias incidents reported last weekend at Golden Gardens Park and at a Ballard restaurant, but court records show he previously faced criminal charges in 2017 related to a two-day crime spree when Altomare reportedly believed he was hunting North Korean spies.
Altomare was arrested Tuesday at his brother’s Ballard apartment, where he has been staying, and booked into the King County Jail, court and jail records show. Initially held in lieu of $50,000 bail, Altomare’s bail was increased to $100,000 due to concerns for public safety, according to prosecutors.
According to the criminal charges filed Thursday, Altomare suffers from severe mental illness and has not been taking his medications. Police say Altomare’s brother told investigators Altomare has been triggered by conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and President Donald Trump’s use of the term “China virus” to describe the illness that has spawned a global pandemic, the charges say.
The brother also told police he recognized Altomare as the suspect seen in a photo circulated by the media, say the charges. It is an apparent reference to a photo released by Seattle police on Sunday, which was captured by video-surveillance cameras at a restaurant in the 2000 block of Northwest Market Street, where a man on Saturday yelled racist remarks about Asians, threw a sign and threatened employees.
The photo’s release resulted in “a flood of tips” identifying the suspect as Altomare, “who had frequented jiu-jitsu gyms in the area and had displayed bizarre and frightening behavior in the past,” say charging papers.
Last year, the state Legislature changed the name of the crime previously known as “malicious harassment” to “hate crime.” A hate crime is committed when someone threatens, injures or damages property based on perceptions of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or mental, physical or sensory disability.
In March, the FBI warned of a possible surge in hate crimes directed against Asian communities, which have been scapegoated for the spread of the coronavirus, according to multiple news reports.
According to the hate crime charges against Altomare:
A couple had gone grocery shopping and were walking in the 1700 block of Northwest 56th Street when they passed a man walking the opposite direction. The man used a racial slur, told the couple to “Go back to China,” and said he planned to kill Chinese President Xi Jinping. The couple continued walking, then heard a woman yell for them to run — and turned to see the man charging at them.
Bystanders intervened, enabling the couple to run into their secure apartment building. The couple later told police they were scared and certain the man was about to physically hurt them.
A witness told police the man had run into an apartment building in the same block where the victims were accosted.
Around noon Tuesday, Altomare’s brother called his apartment manager and asked her to call 911, saying the suspect in the previous day’s incident was Altomare and he was attempting to leave their apartment. Police responded and arrested Altomare.
Three years ago, Altomare was charged with multiple counts of burglary and malicious mischief for a crime spree that began in Kirkland and ended in Seattle, court records show. In May 2017, Altomare shattered a glass door at Google’s Kirkland campus, ransacked an employee kitchen, smashed a TV and caused more than $20,000 in damage, according to court records. Several hours later, he broke into a gym at a Kirkland apartment complex, stole weights and threw them through several windows and sliding-glass doors, the records say.
The following day, he broke into a University of Washington fitness center and used a bat he found inside to smash the windows of multiple parked cars, court records show. Following his arrest at the UW, Altomare declined to talk to police, saying he “only wanted to make statements to President Trump,” say the charges.
A later psychological evaluation diagnosed Altomare with unspecified bipolar disorder with psychotic features and noted he responded well to Abilify, a drug used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the records say.
In all three incidents, witnesses told police Altomare ranted about killing North Koreans and dismantling a North Korean spy ring, say the records. Prosecutors ultimately dismissed the criminal charges after Altomare agreed to have the cases resolved in mental health court, the records show.