A federal hate crime charge has been filed against a man accused of shouting anti-gay slurs as he threatened to stab a man in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.
A Bremerton man accused of threatening three gay men with a knife on Capitol Hill in January has been charged with a federal hate crime.
The alleged assault was originally investigated by Seattle police, but is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to make a point, according to federal prosecutors.
“It’s important for the public to be aware that these types of crimes against the gay and lesbian community are punishable in federal court and won’t be tolerated,” said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
Prosecutors allege in documents unsealed on Wednesday that Troy Burns, 38, was on Capitol Hill on Jan. 25 when he is accused of accosting three men who were walking on East Pike Street.
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The men told police Burns yelled homophobic slurs, according to the court document. The three men turned and saw Burns, who they said looked at them in a “menacing manner” and appeared to be “in an agitated state.”
Prosecutors say Burns was holding a knife at waist level when he looked directly at the men and repeated the slur.
One of the men said Burns threatened to stab them and then he “flipped the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, raised the knife so it was in a stabbing position, and ran toward the three men,” prosecutors wrote in the document.
The three men ran, but Burns was on the heels of one of the men who he threatened to stab in the back of the neck, prosecutors allege.
Police saw Burns chasing one of the men and and ordered Burns to the ground, according to the document.
“Upon seeing the officers, Burns immediately put the knife away in his pocket and began walking toward the officers stating that he had not done anything,” according to the document charging Burns with a single hate crime under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Seattle police said Burns continued to yell slurs even after he was placed in the patrol car, according to the charges.
If convicted as charged, Burns could face up to 10 years in prison, federal prosecutors said. Had he been charged with malicious harassment, the state’s hate crime statute, he could’ve faced three to nine months in jail if he was convicted.
The potential for a longer sentence, higher penalties and more rigorous supervision upon release were among the other factors that factored into the decision to prosecute Burns in federal court, Langlie said.
U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes says the federal prosecution demonstrates her office’s commitment to protecting all western Washington residents from bias-motivated attacks.
“When he signed the Shephard/Byrd Hate crimes prevention act into law, President Obama said ‘no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love.’ It is just that sort of fear this defendant engendered with his attack,” Hayes said in a statement.