Wang & Christensen Contact the DoJ: 19-year-old Suspect is Arrested in Their Case
On June 13, 2019, Oregon passed Senate Bill 577 that amends the Oregon Revised Statutes regarding hate and bias crimes. ORS 166.155, which outlines bias crimes in the second degree, was amended to include crimes based on a person’s gender identity.
ORS 166.165 defines bias crimes in the first degree. This statute was amended to include all of the following:
“(1) A person commits a bias crime in the first degree if the person: (a) Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes physical injury to another person because of the person’s perception of the other person’s race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or national origin; (b) With criminal negligence causes physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon because of the person’s perception of the other person’s race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or national origin; or (c) Intentionally, because of the person’s perception of another person’s race, color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or national origin, places another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury. (2) [Intimidation] A bias crime in the first degree is a Class C felony.”ORS 166.165
SB577 also calls for coordination with the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to create a standardized process for the reporting and processing of hate crimes by local law enforcement agencies and the district attorney.
According to SB577, when a local law enforcement agency responds to the report of a hate crime, they are to refer the victim to qualifying local services. If local services are unable—like they are in Lane County—the agency shall refer the victim to a Bias Response Hotline from the Department of Justice.
This trauma-informed hotline provides victims with resources to help them better understand their options and rights. They help victims navigate the justice system so that they can make choices about next steps, stay informed during the process, and receive support in the aftermath of a biased crime.
However, on June 16, when Xia Wang and Ben Christensen called Lane County Sheriff’s non-emergency number to report a hate crime committed at their house, none of this happened.
Instead, Wang and Christensen were told that a hate crime would need to be proven with intent upon further investigation. According to Public Information Officer, Sergeant Tom Speldrich, LCSO is actively investigating the incident as criminal mischief and is not releasing information to the public at this time.
So, Wang and Christensen were never given the information to victim services, nor to the DoJ hotline.
During the week following, the couple was contacted by representatives of Eugene, Springfield, and Lane County. None of these representatives urged Wang and Christensen to report or even told them about the hotline, except for Fabio Andrade of Eugene’s Office of Human Rights and Neighborhood Involvement, who gave Wang the hotline’s number during a sit down meeting at the couple’s home. Despite this, Wang said that Andrade didn’t explain much about the hotline or why she should call.
Wang was also given the number by a community member from the Santa Clara Community Organization Bias Response Team during the community clean-up at their home.
However, Wang and Christensen didn’t call the DoJ initially. Wang said that every day since the hate crime has felt surreal. She has been trying to stay busy but faces a new set of challenges every morning. They have been focused on their efforts to create a safe space for community connection and healing. They also continued to advocate for civil rights locally.
Using their suffering as an example, they responded to members of the city and county councils by asking them what their plans are to make the community safer — especially for marginalized citizens.
Wang feels like she has had to search for these answers alone and believes that these services should be provided by the county and city. She wants to know how do city and county officials make her and others in her situation feel safe after hate crimes occur?
On July 25, late in the evening, their own county commissioner, Jay Bozievich, responded to this question by saying:
“Xia, I have a policy against speaking to those involved in ongoing investigations and to wait until the investigation is completed. This prevents my causing problems with the investigation. I hope you can understand why someone at my level of authority can compromise a good investigation. I will be happy to talk at the completion of the investigation.”
Wang never asked Bozievich to interfere with the investigation. She never asked him to get involved with LCSO. She simply asked one thing, which he never addressed.
She didn’t mince words with her reply either. She also forwarded the email to the whole Lane County Board of Commissioners. This prompted a reply from Lane County Commissioner, Laurie Trieger, who scheduled a sit down with the couple.
On July 28, Wang called the DoJ out of frustration. The next morning, she spoke with Johanna Costa, the Bias Response Coordinator. Costa informed Wang that law enforcement personnel are obligated to report hate crimes.
The Oregon DoJ released a Law Enforcement Bulletin explaining these obligations on May 22, 2020. In fact, the DoJ has set up a law enforcement toolkit as part of the coordinated standardized process set up in SB577. This toolkit includes links to the enforcement bulletin as well as a law enforcement supplemental report form and a document portal allowing easy ability to track and document incidents.
Both are to be carried in their pockets.
The DoJ knows that not all crimes committed against a person from a protected class are hate crimes. As such, the bulletin said that officers need to investigate for indications of bias.
Bias indicators include differences—actual or perceived—in the victim’s race, color, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability status, or other cultural expression. This includes whether the victim was engaged in activities promoting or advocating for a specific group or identity.
Other indicators include leaving behind bias-related language and drawings, written statements, markings or symbols at the scene of the incident.
When Wang and Christensen were asked by a LCSO non-emergency dispatcher why they believed this recent attack on their home was a hate crime, both were shocked.
This was the fourth time a crime has occured at their home. Both are local outspoken civil rights advocates. Last August they began speaking out at meetings. Directly following the brutal use of force displayed by the Springfield Police Department and known local Proud Boys and their affiliates against members of Black Unity during a protest in Thurston which Christensen attended.
This event occurred on July 29, just one year ago and was a pivotal moment in the couple’s shared history. The CLDC currently has an open lawsuit against the city and SPD on behalf of BU.
Furthermore, Wang is a Chinese American immigrant woman. To them, it is clear, these crimes were motivated by bias and hate. However, Deputy Brooks of LCSO, failed to respond to this as a bias crime – even though plenty of said indicators were present.
Costa agreed that there were clear indicators of a bias-motivated crime. She told Wang that she will be contacting LCSO with her concerns regarding the violations of SB577 in Wang’s case.
The DoJ said that the way officers respond to a hate crime can have a significant impact on how the victim feels immediately following the incident. A good response has both short and long term effects and the toolkit even offers suggestions on what type of language to use when addressing a victim. Officers can convey concern, comfort, and safety with their overall body language and tone, or alternatively convey disinterest and, in-fact, peril.
Wang also told her about the feedback they have received from other city and county officials, notably Bozievich. Costa said she will be reaching out to speak with him, too.
On Friday, July 30, Wang and Christensen met with Commissioner Trieger at their home. DSM was present.
The commissioner arrived early at 2:20 p.m. She quickly introduced herself before sitting down in the front yard’s safe space that Wang created to chat with community members.
Trieger began by explaining why she was there. She offered her sympathy to Wang saying that she is sorry that this happened, she can’t believe that people would do this, and wishes that it didn’t happen.She added further that she could tell them about her past and experience, and explain the things she wants to do to keep the community safe.
But she wasn’t there to blow smoke. Most importantly, she said that she’s sorry that this happened to Wang.
Wang thanked her for the sympathy and asked which area Trieger represents. Trieger is the County Commissioner for District 3–which covers South Eugene and represents 20 percent of Lane County–but Trieger added this is not about her and asked Wang how she was doing.
“It’s been a little hard, something new has been happening each day,” Wang responded. “I’ve been dealing with the city and the county but change takes a long time.”
Instead she’s been focusing on community connection. First they held the community clean-up and then they hosted an art in the park event: “Art Against Hate.”
Wang pointed to the stakes that were driven in the ground the night before by Shawn Goddard, one of the artists. Wang is excited for the mural to go in. She finished by saying that she’s staying busy but is frustrated with Bozievich.
Christensen then arrived at the meeting. After short introductions, he added that he received another reply from Bozievich and was again concerned about the content. He wanted to know why Bozievich wouldn’t get involved, but had guarantees to be contacted by LCSO upon completion of the investigation.
“He’s made it very clear who he is and they shouldn’t waste time trying to get inside his head,” said Trieger.
They continued to talk about Bozievich for some time. Wang and Christensen wanted to know if he could be removed but Trieger explained that “commissioners are chosen by voters, not by each other, but it is possible to change the seat.”
To win the votes from undecided voters, Trieger said: “we must inspire [voters], not bash our opponents.” Trieger added that “Bozievich is my biggest challenge, not just because we disagree on policies, but because his views are harmful.”
Wang said she can’t stand him and that “he’s a racist with no humanity.” Trieger agreed but she doesn’t want to focus on him. She wants to focus on what the county can do to combat both racism and misogyny – especially since Wang represents one of those most harmed due to her race and gender. Trieger said she too has been targeted by bias and “knows what it feels like as a victim, scared in one’s own home.”
Trieger said that culture change and policy change must happen together. “We’ve made important steps in the past, but it’s not enough, not fast enough,” she said. She quoted Martin Luther King Jr. by saying that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it is bent toward justice.”
Wang asked how Trieger would make culture and policy change happen. Trieger said, “By being the change, setting the example of inclusion through representing diversity.”
Trieger said that three of the five commissioners are progressive, one of the commissioners can go either way, and one is extremely conservative. She also added that “unfortunately, people like Bozievich are entitled to their beliefs, just as she is.”
However, the county is making important shifts towards diversity and equity. In 2016, the county hired an Equity and Access Coordinator, Mo Young, as part of their Racial Equity Plan working to identify underserved members of the community.
Wang told Trieger about her conversation with Johanna Costa, the Bias Response Coordinator of the DoJ. She said that the fact that she wasn’t provided with this information by the deputy “shows an obvious gap in service.” She wanted to know if there are other services provided in her situation and also asked who holds the police accountable when they fail to act, adding that “Lane County declared racism a public health crisis, so what’s the next step?”
Trieger said that issues within the LCSO are handled by the Sheriff. However, she hopes that the public health model will also work towards prevention for these types of crimes. For that to work, the county needs good data on who is and is not currently being served, but she doesn’t know what services the county can currently provide. She said she is going to try to find out.
Accountability to Trieger also means being able to talk about these issues with law enforcement and the community – to learn from them, so they can do better next time.
Wang said that’s going to take forever.
Trieger said that they’re making changes, and that in the past we had sheriffs “who were not approachable” about the topic. While she has no authority to make [Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold] act, she can have conversations with him and he is willing to listen.
Trieger said that it’s important to “look at the bigger picture too. First we have to correctly name this problem so it’s not viewed as random or rare.” In November, Lane County denounced white supremacy; in April, the county declared racism a public health crisis. Trieger herself said this is a public health problem.
Trieger argued that many members of white supremacy groups are disconnected too. She said “that economic hardships and lack of resources result in increasing inequity and are often coupled with health issues.These problems leave many feeling disenfranchised making them ripe for recruitment into white supremacy groups.”
Trieger believes that equity plans aimed towards increasing public health will prevent this from happening. Wang wants the county to work with the cities to respond to these issues in tandem.
Trieger said that she thinks “that’s a great idea” and will talk to the Equity and Access Advisory Board to see if that’s something they are planning. Trieger stayed until 3:30 p.m. and just before leaving she told the couple this is an issue she plans to keep pushing forward.
A Breakthrough in the Case Begs More Questions
Maxwell Adam Lewis, age 19, was arrested and booked into the Lane County Jail around 12:45 p.m. on August 1 by the Lane County Sheriff’s Office on a single count of 3rd Degree Criminal Mischief–a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and up to $1,250 in fines. He was held for roughly three hours before being released, though the mechanism of his release is unclear. Lewis is likely being accused of vandalizing Wang and Christensen’s house, as the case number included with his mugshot matches the case number given to the couple by the investigating sheriff’s deputy.
There’s other evidence that supports Lewis’ complicity in the crime. Research found that Lewis’ mother lives not far from Wang and Christensen’s home in Santa Clara, and the Google maps street view of the address appears to show a truck that matches the description of the truck in the security video released by Wang and Christensen.
Wang and Christensen were not notified by LCSO that an arrest had been made in their case. They only found out after Bozeivich sent the couple another email on August 2, letting them know that the case came to a conclusion with the arrest of a 19-year-old male.
DSM used that information to locate Lewis’ arrest records.
Bozievich did not provide any other information regarding the arrest. Wang and Christensen then tried to get an update from LCSO; however, their request was denied. LCSO told the couple that if they wanted to request that information they would need to submit a public records request online.
Wang called Costa upset with the news. Costa informed the couple that they should have been notified of the arrest before the commissioner. Costa searched through the arrest records but was unable to locate any information. Costa told Wang that she will be contacting the DA.
On Aug. 3 Costa spoke to the LCSO records division, who informed her that they sent the case over to the DA’s office that morning. There has been no updates on whether or not the DA will be pressing charges.
There is also currently no information on why there was only one arrest made in this case. When DSM contacted Speldrich last week, he said that it was likely that this case involved two males, possibly a father and son duo, as well as a third unidentified woman. They would not release any other information at that time.
LCSO moved forward on this case based on the type of paint that was used by the attackers, based on prior reporting from DSM. The attackers used a specific kind of paintball that is generally only available to loggers–who use it to mark trees–and livestock farmers–who use it to mark the animals. Based on that information, the sheriff’s office was able to narrow its search and arrest Lewis.
The LCSO did not publicly announce Lewis’ arrest until just after 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 3 – a full two days after his release.
This is a continuously updated story. Keep your eyes peeled for more from this case.