Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta was assaulted and verbally accosted over the weekend purportedly because of his Latin heritage and support of Burien’s sanctuary city policy.
According to the King County Sheriff’s Office, Matta was in a beer garden at the Olde Burien Block Party on the evening of Sat., July 21 when a slim white male in his 60s approached him, put him in a headlock, and said that he wasn’t going to let “your people take over” and “illegals aren’t going to take over our community.” The suspect eventually forced Matta to the ground, during which Matta’s arm was scratched on a nearby fence post, resulting in a cut that drew blood. After this, the suspect ran away. Matta reported the incident to several off-duty sheriff’s deputies who were at the event, and there was at least one witness.
“We are investigating this as a hate crime,” King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Ryan Abbott said.
In a Facebook post published the next morning, Mayor Matta said that his politics and ethnicity were the motivation behind the incident. “I was physically assaulted, and verbally threatened by a male who was upset because Burien is a Sanctuary City and [that] I am a latino male Mayor,” he wrote. “I will not tolerate being threatened by anyone. You have the right to vote and voice your concerns, however when you put your hands on me, I will press charges on you, and have our legal system take care of you. We have no room for hate or violence in our community. I don’t care what color or nationality you come from.”
Abbott added that they only know basic information about the suspect. While the man had contact with the mayor twice before this incident occurred and the organizer of the block party was familiar with him, authorities lack his specifics (last name, residence, etc.).
The son of undocumented immigrants and a former farm worker, Matta was elected to the Burien City Council in November of last year—alongside another successful Latinx City Council candidate, Pedro Olguin—and appointed Mayor by his colleagues in January.
The election cycle that brought Matta into office was highly charged with nativist anti-immigrant sentiment, and followed attempts by anti-immigrant activists to repeal the city’s sanctuary city ordinance, which prevents Burien police officers and city employees from asking people about their immigration status. In mid-September of last year, King County Elections pulled a ballot initiative that would’ve nullified the city’s sanctuary-city policy.
At a press conference at Burien City Hall on Monday, Mayor Matta said that he will be pressing charges once the suspect is apprehended. “This is a criminal act against myself and I am a victim,” he said. “We have no room for this behavior. It’s behavior that we’re concerned about.”
“We take these allegations very seriously,” said Burien Police Chief Ted Boe. “People have a right to express their opinions and their views. However ,they do not have the right to assault or threaten people, nor damage property in the course of that expression.”
“If I didn’t step forward and speak up about this [behavior], it would be normalized,” Matta said at the press conference. “What I see going on in our country and in our city, that’s unacceptable.”
Matta said that he will notify local law enforcement whenever he attends public events in the future as a security caution, but took a uplifting tone when discussing the incident in the context of Burien’s turbulent politics. “I’m very optimistic that we’re going to continue to heal [as a community],” he said. “We’ve gotta go through some of these atrocities to make sure that we build a strong community.”
Update (July 24): On the evening of Monday, July 23, the 62-year-old suspect in the reported harassment and assault of Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta turned himself in to Burien Police. He was subsequently arrested and released pending the investigation outcome. Malicious harassment charges are expected to be reccomended and forwarded to the King County Prosecutor’s Office.