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What can be considered a hate crime? King County investigators, prosecutors weigh in

The King County Sheriff's Office said a robbery and shooting at an Asian-operated spa in Skyway shows no indication of being a hate crime. So what does qualify?

SEATTLE — An attempted robbery and shooting that injured a man at an Asian-operated spa business in Skyway showed no indication that it was racially motivated or based on a hate crime, according to the King County Sheriff's Office.

"At this point, we believe the motive was robbery but we never exclude anything. As long as the case is open and active, we're going to continue to gather facts, continue to gather evidence," KCSO Sgt. Tim Meyer said.

Sheriff's deputies are looking for two suspects who tried to rob the South Bay Massage & Spa on Renton Ave. South, Thursday night.

A spa customer, an Asian man, was shot in the leg and treated at a hospital. No others were hurt, according to Meyer. It is unclear whether the suspects got away with any money or valuables.

The incident comes at a time of rising acts of violence against the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Shootings at spas in Georgia Tuesday left eight people dead; six of them Asian women.

RELATED: Spa killing spree leaves 8 dead in metro Atlanta; suspect captured

While Thursday's spa shooting in Seattle was not immediately deemed a hate crime, detectives will continue to gather evidence and facts in the case.

"If we find that it was in any way motivated by hate or bias, well that, of course, changes the complexion of the case and charges accordingly," Meyer said.

Such incidents at Asian-owned and operated businesses or acts of violence against Asians have many feeling fearful and concerned.

"In all of these Asian communities, it just makes me really sad," said Christine Lee, who was visiting Seattle from the San Francisco Bay Area.

"They're shouldering the weight of the pandemic and the racism, especially this targeted racism. It just makes me really sad," Lee said.

In King County alone, prosecutors filed 59 hate crimes in 2020, up from 39 in 2019. So far in 2021, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office filed nine hate crimes; two of which from victims who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander.

The challenge for prosecutors is to prove a crime was racially motivated or based on bias.

"For hate crimes, motive has to be one of the elements and we have to be able to prove that motive beyond a reasonable doubt," said Leandra Craft, a King County deputy prosecutor that focuses on hate crimes.

Craft said motives can be difficult to prove unless an aggressor verbally says a slur based on race or sexual identity. Biases or hate crime motives may also surface during a defendant's police interviews.