BURIEN, Wash. -- The controversy surrounding sanctuary cities in Western Washington and elsewhere has elicited support from some, criticism from others. And some just get outright heated over the debate.
That may be the motivation over what happened Saturday night, when police say a local mayor became the victim of a possible hate crime.
[UPDATE: The King County Sheriff’s Office said a 62-year-old man turned himself in to police Monday night after Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta said that an unidentified man approached him Saturday night at a block party beer garden. The unnamed suspect, also from Burien, was arrested and released. Authorities say he may face malicious harassment charges.]
Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta, showed Q13 News exactly how he says a man assaulted him on the streets of downtown Burien Saturday night, in a beer garden during the Olde Burien Block Party.
“I felt somebody grab me from right here, grab me this way, bring me down like this. And he goes, 'You think you’re a celebrity here, don’t you? You ain’t (expletive) here.' And he started cussing at me about how, 'We’re not going let Latinos take over this community. You and your illegals. You want to mess with someone? I’ll kill you!'”
Matta says he told the man to let him go. And he says the suspect walked away into the crowd, down SW 152nd Street.
The mayor considered letting it go.
“But then I started thinking, well, what if he comes back with a gun? And I’m like OK, maybe I should tell the police.”
Both Burien Police and the King County Sheriff’s Office say they’re investigating this as a possible hate crime. And they’re still working to identify the suspect.
But Matta says this wasn’t his first encounter with this man. He says the man verbally attacked him twice before; the first time during a march for Elizabeth Jaurez, a 13-year-old shot and killed alongside her friend in March.
“The one time that I had that interaction with him, he was kind of shaking, he was so mad about sanctuary cities,” says Matta.
The mayor noted that Burien became a sanctuary city in 2017 and he says he did voice his support for the ordinance during his campaign for mayor.
“We’re born from being a small bedroom community to a metropolitan city, so there’s obviously side-effects when that happens and that’s what we are facing here today. I was born in Preston, Idaho. I’ve been questioned whether I’m a citizen or not. There’s nothing I can do about the color of my hair, the color of my skin, the language that I speak. At the end of the day, I’m an American.”
Matta says he won’t let one “bad apple” poison his faith in his community.
“I feel safe in the city of Burien. I’ve never not felt safe in the city of Burien. What concerns me is what’s next? Is he going to be upset to where he’ll look for me? And so, to me, I don’t think it’s a closed chapter."
The mayor says he was not seriously hurt, but he did suffer a small cut on his forearm.