Rare hate crime charges in Puyallup after teens accused of assaulting black man in park

Five teens have been charged with a hate crime after Puyallup police said they hurled racial slurs at a black man before assaulting him in Pioneer Park earlier this week.

An 18-year-old man from South Hill was charged Friday in Pierce County Superior Court with one count each of malicious harassment, fourth-degree assault and riot. A 17-year-old, two 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old face the same charges in Juvenile Court.

The 18-year-old was released on electronic home monitoring and ordered to not contact the victim or the other four charged in the assault.

According to charging documents:

The five were in Pioneer Park, 324 S. Meridian, about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday when they singled out a drunken black man.

One of the teens said a racial slur toward the 24-year-old man and then punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. The teen then kicked the man as another teen moved in to punch the man.

The 18-year-old “moved toward the victim in an aggressive manner and put his hands up in front of his face in a boxing-style stance but did not strike the victim,” prosecutors wrote.

Another teen came in close to the man and placed himself in front of a bystander to the assault and told that person to back away.

A witness recorded the incident on video, which police obtained. Throughout the video, racial slurs are hurled at the man as he is being assaulted.

By the time police responded to the park, they found the man unresponsive, with one eye swelling shut. He had a cut to his head and blood on his forehead.

He was hospitalized.

The man told police he believed he was attacked because of his race.

“I was going to die for being black,” he said.

Some of the five teens charged are black, Puyallup police spokesman Scott Engle said. The 18-year-old is listed in Superior Court documents as white.

All five are affiliated to the same gang, Engle said.

He called the hate crime charge “extremely rare” for the city and said he had a hard time remembering the last time something similar happened there.

Some of the five teens were involved in an assault the night before at Pioneer Park, Engle said. In that incident, a man was sitting outside the Puyallup Public Library about 9 p.m. Monday when a group of people assaulted him.

The man was taken to a Tacoma hospital for his injuries.

The 17-year-old held in Tuesday’s assault will be charged with first-degree robbery in the Monday incident after he allegedly took the victim’s backpack.

“When you steal something and you’re beating a person, that’s considered a robbery,” Engle said.

Police said they know who the suspects are in the Monday night assault but not all are in custody, Engle said.

“This very much appears to be an anomaly for Pioneer Park in terms of having serious incidents back to back in two days,” he said.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker