A 48-year-old Seattle man arrested Saturday on suspicion of committing a hate crime against U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal was released from jail Wednesday. Seattle police released him because they could not say with certainty that he told the congresswoman to go back to India or that he threatened to kill her, according to King County prosecutors.
Seattle police on Wednesday obtained a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order — commonly known as an ERPO — to require the man to surrender his firearms and concealed pistol license, citing concerns about his escalating behavior toward Jayapal and increasing struggles with his mental health, court records show.
The police investigation is ongoing. Prosecutors have not declined to file a criminal case but don’t currently have evidence to prove a hate crime was committed, said Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors have 72 hours, not including holidays and weekends, to file criminal charges against a person in custody. If charges are not filed within that time, the person must be released from jail. Prosecutors are also ethically bound not to file charges unless they have evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a person committed the crime they are accused of.
“The recent incident outside Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s Seattle home is disturbing and unacceptable. In a time of increased political violence, security concerns against any elected official should be taken seriously, as we are doing here,” McNerthney wrote in an email Wednesday.
“The suspect’s alleged language and actions, coupled with his possession of a concealed weapon, deserve the full attention of the justice system. Presently, the investigation is ongoing and our office is working with police investigators to make sure we understand the full extent of the suspect’s actions to build the strongest case possible,” the email said.
Jayapal, 56, is a former state senator who became the first Indian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016. A Democrat, Jayapal represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District, which includes most of Seattle. Jayapal was born in India and came to the U.S. at 16 to attend college at Georgetown University.
“We are glad the extreme risk protection order was obtained,” a spokesperson for Jayapal said in an email.
Seattle police arrested the man outside Jayapal’s house in the Arbor Heights neighborhood at 11:25 p.m. Saturday after she called 911 and reported an unknown person or people were in a vehicle outside, using obscene language, according to the probable cause statement released after the man’s first court appearance Monday. She told a dispatcher her husband thought someone may have fired a pellet gun, but he wasn’t sure, the statement said.
Officers found the man standing in the middle of the street with his hands in the air and a .40-caliber handgun holstered on his waist, the probable cause statement said. Police detained the man and secured the gun.
A neighbor told police she heard the man yell something to the effect of, “Go back to India. I’m going to kill you,” the statement said. The neighbor also saw and heard the man drive by Jayapal’s residence at least three times, yelling profanities, according to the statement.
A detective was assigned to conduct a follow-up investigation and met with Jayapal’s husband, who provided video clips from their home-security system, according to the ERPO petition. In one clip, the last part of the word “India” can be heard, followed by an expletive-laced rant directed at Jayapal, the petition said. In another clip, the man can be seen approaching the house while yelling profanities about being Jayapal’s neighbor, followed by the sound of metal being manipulated.
The detective could not be sure if the sound was from a handgun being racked or if it was from the clang of metal tent poles as the man tried to erect a tent on Jayapal’s property, the petition said.
Police learned the man sent an email to Jayapal’s public account in January, saying he didn’t like her because of her “perceived political wrongdoings,” the petition said. He has also driven by her house and shouted obscenities at her multiple times since late June, according to the petition.
The petition notes the man told officers he wanted to purchase an assault-style rifle for protection but denied saying anything about Jayapal’s ethnicity or threatening to kill her.
In an interview with police, the man’s mother said in the week leading up to his arrest, her son had been feverish and hadn’t been eating or sleeping, according to the petition. He was also struggling with pain from a workplace injury and with managing his mental health and associated medications, the petition said. The man’s mother told police it was not a good idea for her son to have access to guns, and she was concerned he could harm himself.
Within 14 days of a temporary ERPO being issued, a full hearing is held before a judge and a respondent can challenge the ERPO, provide testimony and call witnesses. The judge then decides whether to deny or grant a permanent ERPO, which bars the respondent from owning or purchasing firearms for one year.
Under state law, a hate crime — formerly called malicious harassment — is a Class C felony defined as intentionally injuring, damaging property or threatening someone because of their perception of the victim’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or mental, physical or sensory disability.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.