PORT ANGELES — The investigation into the racist, violent graffiti found last week on a Port Angeles High School boys bathroom wall will continue this week, although investigators are leaning toward ruling out classifying it as a hate crime, Deputy Police Chief Jason Viada said.
Police and school officials have refused to say what was written on a boys’ restroom wall other than to specify it referred to shooting a weapon at the school. They were not specific about what was scrawled at a distance from the threat that was racist. School staff cleaned the graffiti off the wall soon after it was discovered on Wednesday.
“It was a specific threat of a school shooting,” Viada said Friday.
Viada said the threat was clearly focused on the school without being specific as to whether the student population was targeted, and that the distance of its separation from the racial graffiti makes it unclear if the two messages were connected.
A male student was identified as a suspect. He was seen on a school surveillance video, although not in the act of writing the graffiti, according to Viada.
Authorities interviewed him early in the investigation and may interview him again, Viada said.
“We don’t have enough to make an arrest,” he said, adding there are no other suspects in the case.
District Superintendent Marty Brewer said Saturday he would not comment on the investigation or any specifics of the incident so as to not compromise the investigation.
He said school district officials work closely with the Port Angeles Police Department when there are threats of violence and follow the agency’s guidance in addressing it.
“Our school district adamantly stands against implicit bias, prejudice and racism,” he said.
“It’s something we are adamantly against and will do anything we need to do to address implicit bias, prejudice or racism throughout our school and community.”
The defaced boys rest room was determined to be serious enough to warrant a police sweep of the school grounds Thursday morning and the open presence of four police officers during classes.
“Additional facts would be necessary to make this clearly a hate crime offense,” Viada said Friday.
“Possibly, we’ll get those during the investigation.
“Certainly, the hate crime statute is one of the statutes that will be considered.”
“It’s really difficult to apply some real-world scenarios to that statute,” Viada said.
According to the hate crime statute — RCW 9A.36.080 — a person is guilty of a hate crime by threatening or physically injuring someone, or damaging property, because of one of 12 characteristics of a person or group, including that person or group’s race, and puts them “in reasonable fear of harm.”
The crime is a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The threat must constitute more than written words.
“Words alone do not constitute a hate crime offense unless the context or circumstances surrounding the words indicate the words are a threat,” the statute says.
“Threatening words do not constitute a hate crime offense if it is apparent to the victim that the person does not have the ability to carry out the threat.”
According to the statute, the state Legislature renamed the malicious harassment law to “its more commonly understood title of hate crime offense” in 2019 following a sharp increase is malicious harassment offenses since 2015.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.