On September 17, Seattle police officers responded to calls about an assault on Capitol Hill to find their suspect, 34-year-old Raven Lang Brealan, who stands six feet two and weighs 290 pounds, hiding in some bushes in a yellow golf hat. When questioned by police about the alleged assault—specifically, if he had called two men "faggots," threatened them with a knife, and struck one of the men repeatedly in the face—Brealan explained that "earlier that night while talking to what he thought was a woman... he 'felt an erection,'" according to a police report. When he learned that the woman he was flirting with was actually a man, he became "very upset."

Four days later, the King County Prosecutor's Office filed assault and malicious harassment charges—classified as hate crimes under Washington State law—against Brealan for "yelling homosexual slurs" and striking his victim with a street sign, writes Detective Moore in charging documents. (Neither the police report nor the charging documents say if the victim is transgender or was dressed as a woman.)

Mike Hogan, a 25-year prosecuting attorney, decides when to charge suspects with being motivated by a victim's real or perceived race, sexual orientation, national origin, etc. He says that local law-­enforcement agencies are referring more hate crime cases to his office each year—and that's actually a good thing.

"I don't believe that means more people are getting assaulted," says Hogan. "Rather, police are trained on biased motives and victims are more confident about speaking out. Whereas 20 years ago, malicious harassment simply wasn't investigated, wasn't reported, and wasn't prosecuted."

Indeed, hate crimes appear to be piercing the public consciousness more than ever. This summer alone, Seattle has seen mainstream media coverage of a transgender teen allegedly assaulted with a baseball bat and a woman reportedly spit on for speaking Arabic at a bus stop. The Stranger has reported on countless cases in recent years of victims being assaulted while assailants call them "faggot," "homo," or "you gay motherfucker." And as recently as September 24, police filed the report of a West Seattle couple whose cars were vandalized and left with a note that read, "Get the fuck out of our neighborhood. The bible says God forbids men committing indecent act [sic] with other men." Police classified that, too, as malicious harassment.

But prosecutors don't necessarily file hate crime charges in every case due to the high burden of proof required, Hogan explains. In 2010, the prosecutor's office prosecuted 21 hate crime cases. So far this year, Hogan has referred only nine cases for hate crime charges, putting the county on track to have the lowest number of prosecuted hate crimes since 2007 (the earliest year data was available).

As for Brealan, he is being held in King County Jail and is facing an arraignment hearing on October 5. recommended