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Irvine, California, police arrested an Asian man on Monday after he attempted to sexually assault a woman of Asian descent “because he thought she was White,” authorities said.
Michael Sangbong Rhee, 37, pointed a handgun at the female victim, who was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car with the door open at 1:30 p.m. near her apartment in the Harvard-Coronado area of Irvine, according to a press release.
Rhee told the victim that if she wanted to live, she had to move to the backseat of her car. Rhee then opened the rear passenger door and “committed a sexual battery against” the victim before she yelled to a maintenance worker nearby.
Rhee then fled the scene and got into his car; police were able to identify his license plate number via surveillance cameras that captured Rhee’s vehicle leaving the apartment complex.
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“Based on the totality of the investigation and statements made by Rhee, detectives believe he targeted the victim because he thought she was white,” a press release from the Irvine PD reads. “Detectives also believe the assault was in retaliation to hate crimes committed against the Asian community.”
IPD detectives will be adding hate crime charges to complaints made against Rhee, who is currently being held on $1 million bail on charges of kidnapping with intent to commit sexual assault. Police discovered a BB gun similar to the handgun the victim described at Rhee’s home.
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The IPD “and the City of Irvine do not tolerate violent crimes against women or hate-related crimes in our community,” the release states.
Hate crimes against Asian Americans increased nearly 150% in 2020 in 16 of the largest cities in the U.S. while overall hate crimes dropped by 7%, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
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New York City, Los Angeles and Boston reported the largest number of hate-crime incidents against Asian Americans, according to the study.
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