Hate Crimes In Pima County

prosecuting hate crimes

The Pima Liberator has obtained copies of every incident designated a “hate crime” by the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in 2015 and 2016. After analyzing the police reports and court files of every single incident, The Liberator has learned that the Pima County Attorney has not prosecuted a single hate crime in the last two years.

Prosecutors must allege a crime was motivated by hate for it to be punished as a “hate crime”

In April 1990, the U.S. Congress passed The Hate Crimes Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. § 534)  which requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect data about crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The law was amended in later years to include crimes motivated by disabilities, gender and gender identity, and crimes committed by and against juveniles. As a result, Pima County law enforcement agencies make a practice of collecting information on crimes that appear to be motivated by hate towards one of these groups, and reporting that information to the FBI.

Arizona law does not define “hate crimes” as a unique kind of criminal conduct. Instead, Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-701(D)(15) and § 41-1750(A)(3) state that, when a judge decides how to sentence a defendant, they shall consider as an aggravating factor,

Evidence that the defendant committed the crime out of malice toward a victim because of the victim’s…race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”

In other words, hate crimes in Arizona are more commonplace crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder that can lead to a harsher sentence if motivated by the victim’s membership in a protected group. However, in order for a judge to make a hate crime finding and sentence a defendant to a longer prison sentence, the prosecutor must first allege that the crime was motivated by hate. This allegation is made in a pleading attached to the formal criminal indictment, which lists what laws a defendant is charged with violating.

In 2015 and 2016 the Pima County Attorney prosecuted zero out of 20 incidents designated by law enforcement as hate crimes

The Pima Liberator obtained copies of all 20 reported incidents that the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department designated as hate crimes in 2015 and 2016. All 20 are listed and summarized here.

Among the findings:

  • The Pima County Attorney did not prosecute any of these incidents as a hate crime.
  • 11 of the 20 incidents involved race or color; 7 involved national origin; 7 involved a crime based on sexual orientation; 5 involved religion. (Some incidents were targeted at multiple protected groups.)
  • Only 3 of the 20 incidents resulted in an arrest.
  • 2 of those 3 incidents were prosecuted as misdemeanor disorderly conduct and threatening and intimidating cases – charges not included in Arizona’s current hate crimes laws.
  • Only once did the Pima County Attorney bring felony charges in an incident designated by law enforcement as a hate crime. In January, 2015, a male high-school student assaulted another male student in their high-school’s bathroom while calling the victim “faggot,” “retard,” and “bitch.” The victim suffered a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, and a broken clavicle. The Pima County Attorney did not charge this as a hate crime, but allowed the defendant to plead guilty to a class 6 (the lowest level) felony in juvenile court. The defendant was sentenced to probation, and the charge was eventually designated a misdemeanor.

Actions speak louder than words

Despite this very thin record, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has previously trumpeted her commitment to prosecuting hate crimes, which she has said extends to serving on the Board of Directors of the National District Attorney’s Association, “Whose meetings deal with numerous issues of vital concern to our constituents, including issues related to…hate crimes.” Ms. LaWall has ordered her office to create and distribute – from Pima County taxpayer funds – glossy brochures in which she has bragged about working with community groups to hold hate crime offenders accountable.

LaWall hate crimes claim

“A Report To The People: Pima County Attorney’s Office 1996 – 2006,” pg. 32

In addition, Ms. LaWall’s employees and supporters have lauded her supposed dedication to the prosecution of hate crimes during her previous elections.

Taking the “mission to protect the public safety” seriously

Hate crime is a serious issue in our community and our country. The FBI reports that there was a 6% rise in hate crime in 2015, and there has been a huge spike in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S.. The opening months of 2017 saw the brutal shooting of Indian immigrants, and dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country, including here in Tucson. The Tucson City Council is right now considering a new hate crimes ordinance that would prohibit misdemeanor hate crimes, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a statement promising that the Tucson Police Department will work vigorously “to apprehend the people behind any hate crimes.”

According to her own words, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall gives special attention to helping victims and prosecuting violent crime, and takes seriously her “mission to protect the public safety.” But how well is this mission fulfilled when our chief prosecutor does not even attempt to prosecute hate crimes? It is unfair to expect any prosecutor to maintain a perfect record of hate crimes prosecutions, especially when such crimes often lack eyewitnesses or suspects. But it is also unfair to the voters and taxpayers of Pima County for an elected official to publicly and vigorously condemn hate crimes that they in fact do not seem to care all that much about prosecuting.