Should the Tokyo Foods shooter be charged with a hate crime?
Ohio does not have a stand-alone hate crime statute
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - It’s been a week since police charged 33-year-old Daniel Beckjord after he allegedly opened fire into an Evendale grocery store, court documents say.
Beckjord pulled up in his vehicle to Tokyo Oriental Foods Shop on Reading Road and fired several rounds into the glass with a Glock handgun, according to the criminal complaint.
After the first few rounds, witnesses in the parking lot say they saw Beckjord walk around the building and begin shooting again. An affidavit says nine people hid in a locked bathroom at a nearby restaurant during the shooting. No one was hurt.
Beckjord allegedly told his arresting officers, among other statements police described as nonsensical, that he was “the president of Tokyo.”
While executing search warrants, police claim to have found bulletproof vests and a cache of ammunition and rifles.
Evendale Police Chief Tim Holloway said the day of the shooting there was no evidence currently to suggest the shooting was ethnically motivated.
Organizations across Greater Cincinnati want Holloway and federal authorities to take a second look.
“He chose the time and place,” attorney Charleston Wang said. “The time was the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated in Japan and China.”
Wang represents the Interethnic Council of Greater Cincinnati. The council recently sent a letter to Evendale Police Chief Tim Holloway asking that the investigation “include a search for evidence of a hate crime under Ohio law” and “if such evidence is found, appropriate charges must be filed.”
It continues: “We want to express gratitude and convey our appreciation of the diligence of the Evendale Police Department and hope it will set an example for all other police units in our community. And we commend the arrest and continuing investigation by Evendale Police to other concerned communities, including Asian American organizations.”
Ohio broadly defines hate crimes as acts, from vandalism to arson to murder, motivated by prejudice or intolerance directed toward a member of a specific racial, religious, gender or social group (but not specifically sexual orientation or gender identity.) To classify as a hate crime, prosecutors must prove the person acted intentionally, willingly or knowingly out of prejudice.
That said, there is no stand-alone hate crime statute in the Ohio Revised Code. There is an “ethnic intimidation” provision that deals with misdemeanor offenses. Otherwise, acts designated as hate crimes qualify for enhanced penalties and allow judges to impose harsher sentences. Judges have broad discretion in deciding whether to do so.
The Japanese American Citizens League and others are writing a letter similar to the one from the Interethnic Council of Greater Cincinnati to the FBI.
The federal government can prosecute defendants for hate crimes under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act when:
- A state does not have jurisdiction or requests the federal government to assume jurisdiction;
- Federal prosecution is in “the best interests of the public and the securement of justice;” or,
- When “state laws where the alleged crime occurred did not result in verdicts or sentences which align with the federal government’s goal to eradicate bias-motivated violence.”
Wang says the elements of the alleged acts satisfy both federal and Ohio hate crime laws. “We want to make sure that we state that, and we also want to show public support,” he said.
Beckjord currently faces six counts of felonious assault and ten counts of inducing panic.
He also faces drug charges after police say they found a “sophisticated” marijuana grow operation in his home including more than 40,000 grams of marijuana as well as cultivation equipment for processing and packaging.
Evendale Police Chief Tim Holloway says police will meet with the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office ahead of the grand jury hearing on Wednesday.
“Whether any additional charges will be filed against the suspect or any modifications or enhancements to existing charges will not be known until after the case is heard by the grand jury,” Holloway said.
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