PORT ANGELES — More than a month after a black man told police he was assaulted by a white man yelling racial slurs, police have yet to close the investigation despite identifying a suspected assailant.
They do not have enough information to put the joint FBI-city police investigation to rest and make a charging recommendation to the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Police Chief Brian Smith said.
The investigation into the attack the night of July 17 in a residential neighborhood was expanded after police began considering whether more people witnessed the attack than was first reported, Smith said Friday.
Within a week of the assault of the 22-year-old Clallam County man, investigators had identified a suspected assailant and the person who drove the attacker away from the Eighth Street bridges area south of downtown, Smith said.
Smith said investigators have interviewed five people who were present for the assault near the intersection of South Cedar and West Ninth streets near the Eighth Street bridges.
“We’ve spoken to people we think were the driver and the suspect,” Smith said last week.
“We haven’t referred the case yet because we can’t say positively that we have the right two people.”
More than estimated
Smith said the victim had first estimated six high school-age people were present — three males and three females.
“We may have more people there than we originally thought,” Smith said, adding he had no idea how many people were actually there.
“There’s no way for a victim in that situation to have known an exact number of people that were there,” Smith said.
“There’s a very strong possibility other people were there. There’s no way to know it because the victim does not know it.”
Those interviewed have not said much to police, Smith said.
He said that didn’t necessarily mean they were not cooperating.
“That could be one way to interpret what’s going on,” he said. “It could be that everyone is telling us what they know.”
He said investigators must convince people to talk to police.
“Nobody has to talk to us at all, nobody has to tell us anything,” Smith said.
“We have to have a probable-cause statement that shows this person who is positively identified did this thing.
“Then we have to show why we think that and how we got there.”
Smith said the assault, combined with racial slurs, “absolutely” makes the offense a hate crime and a civil rights violation.
“We believe victims in crimes,” Smith said.
Rob Matuszewski, FBI Seattle office spokesman, said the FBI agency in Poulsbo is assisting the Port Angeles Police Department, which is the lead agency.
Nothing has been determined, including if the assault was a hate crime, he said.
“That’s why the investigation is ongoing,” Matuszewski said. “Things unfold as the investigation runs its course.”
The victim was walking alone at about 2:30 a.m. July 17 near the intersection of South Cedar and West Ninth streets when he was accosted by people he did not know, he told police.
One man hit him in the face about four times while yelling racial slurs and telling him he was going to die, the victim told police.
Smith would not say whether others who were present corroborated the victim’s account of the use of racial slurs, citing the ongoing investigation.
When the first man was done, another man in the group approached him menacingly before they all sped away, said the victim, telling police he did not fight back for fear of being killed.
The victim was treated for facial contusions and abrasions at Olympic Medical Center and discharged.
Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin will review the case to determine whether charges will be filed.
Smith said he has consulted with her about the case.
“We don’t normally do that,” Smith said.
“I want to make sure this case is successful once we refer this case.”
Devlin said Friday the police department wants to make sure the investigation is thorough.
“This is something we really take seriously,” Devlin said.
Those who watched the victim get beaten are not liable for prosecution for not intervening.
“They are liable if they have facts involved in a crime and we ask them and they don’t tell the truth,” Smith said.
“You are liable for that.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].