Man accused in threats to kill Rep. Pramila Jayapal released

July 14, 2022 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — A 48-year-old Seattle man arrested Saturday on suspicion of committing a hate crime against U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal was released from jail Wednesday.

King County prosecutors said Seattle police released him because they couldn’t say with certainty that he told the congresswoman to go back to India or that he threatened to kill her, The Seattle Times reported.

Court records show Seattle police on Wednesday obtained a temporary Extreme Risk Protection Order to require the man to surrender his firearms and concealed pistol license, citing concerns about escalating behavior toward Jayapal and increasing mental health struggles.

The investigation is ongoing. Prosecutors have not declined to file a criminal case but don’t currently have evidence to prove a hate crime was committed, said Casey McNerthney, a spokesperson for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors have 72 hours, not including holidays and weekends, to file criminal charges against a person in custody. If charges are not filed by then, the person must be released from jail.

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“In a time of increased political violence, security concerns against any elected official should be taken seriously, as we are doing here,” McNerthney wrote in an email Wednesday. “The investigation is ongoing and our office is working with police investigators to make sure we understand the full extent of the suspect’s actions to build the strongest case possible.”

In 2016, Jayapal became the first Indian American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democrat heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus. A spokesperson for Jayapal didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Seattle Times requesting comment Wednesday.

Seattle police arrested the man outside Jayapal’s house in the Arbor Heights neighborhood at 11:25 p.m. Saturday after she called 911 and reported an unknown person or people were in a vehicle using obscene language, according to the probable cause statement. She told a dispatcher her husband thought someone may have fired a pellet gun, the statement said.

Officers found the man standing in the the street with his hands in the air and a handgun holstered on his waist, the probable cause statement said.

A neighbor told police she heard the man yell something to the effect of, “Go back to India. I’m going to kill you,” the statement said. The neighbor also saw and heard the man drive by Jayapal’s residence at least three times, yelling profanities, according to the statement.

A detective met with Jayapal’s husband, who provided video clips from their home-security system, according to the protection order petition. In one clip, the last part of the word “India” can be heard, followed by an expletive-laced rant directed at Jayapal, the petition said. In another clip, the man can be seen approaching the house while yelling profanities about being Jayapal’s neighbor, followed by the sound of metal.

The detective couldn’t be sure if the sound was from a handgun being racked or metal tent poles as the man tried to put up a tent on Jayapal’s property, the petition said.

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Police learned the man sent an email to Jayapal’s public account in January, saying he didn’t like her because of her “perceived political wrongdoings,” the petition said. He has also driven by her house and shouted obscenities at her multiple times since late June, according to the petition.

The petition notes the man told officers he wanted to purchase an assault-style rifle for protection but denied saying anything about Jayapal’s ethnicity or threatening to kill her.

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The man’s mother told police her son recently hadn’t been eating or sleeping and struggling with pain from a workplace injury and with managing his mental health, according to the petition. She told police it was not a good idea for her son to have access to guns.

Within 14 days of a temporary protection order being issued, a full hearing is held before a judge during which a respondent can challenge it. The judge then decides whether to deny or grant a permanent order, which bars the respondent from owning or buying firearms for one year.