SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Kevin Campos was walking out to his car for work like any other morning when he saw white spray paint all over his car, tagged with anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs.
“In my mind I’m thinking, is this really happening? Could this be a dream,” Campos said.
He said his car was the only one in his apartment complex marked.
“The fact that this person skipped a whole bunch of cars and just came to this spot and did it to my car, that is what baffled me,” he said.
Campos said he doesn’t identify as Jewish or gay, but still considers the act hateful. The Wilmington Police Department does as well, investigating it as a possible hate crime because of the possible motives. Right now, it’s labeled as a property crime.
“We hear it [about hate crimes] on the news and everything, and I’m like, it would never happen to me or my friends or my family or anyone that I know, but it’s out there,” Campos said.
The district attorney decides if an incident will be tried as a hate crime. According to District Attorney Ben David, proving the motive in a hate crime is what makes it so difficult to prosecute.
“When you’re talking about hate crimes, you do have to prove the why. It’s the only type of case where prosecutors have to prove why someone acted and not just that it was intentional also,” David said.
“Asking why terrible crimes happen is like chasing a ghost because by definition, it’s abhorrent behavior. It’s not something that rational people would do, and so for that reason, very frequently it’s not something that is subject to any rational explanation,” he added.
According to the state of North Carolina, a hate crime is technically called ethnic intimidation. It’s when someone assaults another, damages his or her property, or threatens to do either because of race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin. The state statute doesn’t include sexual orientation like federal law does.
“We absolutely think everyone should be protected, so even if the law doesn’t specifically recognize someone’s sexual orientation, if that’s what prompted the attack, we’re of course going to look at that aspect, and motive again is very helpful to look at why someone does something,” David said.
David said even though they can’t charge someone with a hate crime if the bias is sexual orientation, the motive may factor into a higher sentence for the crime a suspect is charged with.
Hate crimes across the country have increased by 17 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the FBI. Locally, though, the Cape Fear area hasn’t seen the same trend. Numbers have consistently fluctuated between seven to nine incidents each year.
WECT requested documents related to any incident investigated as a possible hate crime since 2015 from police departments and sheriff’s offices in the area.
A spokesperson with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office said there was one report of ethnic intimidation during that time frame. The incident was in 2017, and involved a female suspect who made racial slurs towards the a female detention officer while she was brought into the jail.
A spokesperson with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office said the county had two reports of hate crimes, but both involved juveniles, so they could not provide any further information.
Wilmington had 27 incidents investigated as possible hate crimes since 2015, according to a spokesperson with the Wilmington Police Department. There were seven incidents in 2015, five in 2016, six in 2017 and nine in 2018. The most common bias categories for incidents investigated were race and religion.
Incidents ranged from sending hate mail to a temple, to assault, to damage to personal property, like Campos’ case. Right now, he said he has no idea who may have done this.
In a statement, the Wilmington Police Department said “the malicious nature of hate crimes can unsettle and scare the public, which can pose challenges to our investigations.”
The statement went on to say the police department continue outreach efforts, to take a proactive approach to fighting hate crimes, and they’re happy with the low trend compared to national numbers.
Pender and Columbus County Sheriff’s Offices, along with the Whiteville Police Department reported they haven’t had any incidents. Other agencies didn’t get back to WECT by the time this was published.
According to David, the murder and sexual assault of a five-year-old girl in Pender County in 2017 is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
“I will confirm that we were, and we are [investigating it as a possible hate crime]. That is something that is a facet of the investigation, and we don’t leave any stone unturned particularly when we’re talking about the death of a child,” David said.
Court documents unsealed in December of 2018 reveal race could have been a factor in the crimes. The documents further implicate the only known suspect, David Prevatte, Paitin’s uncle.
According to the search warrants, in one of Prevatte’s Facebook profile pictures, he is standing in front of a Confederate flag. The warrants also indicate he had possible racial motivations.
Prevatte expresses intense racial hatred, that he wrote on his bedroom wall in the (Watha) house ‘KKK’ and used racial epithets directed at a black employee at the scene during the search of their house – Paitin is a mixed-race child (her biological mother is white and her biological father is black),” the document states.
After publishing this story, a family member contacted WECT to clarify that Paitin’s father is actually of Native American descent.
“There’s nothing more important than the death of a child, and when murder is alleged, as it is obviously here, we’re going to use every available resource,” said David adding, “I’m not going to get into the specific facts of the case but I will confirm that we’re looking into it [a possible hate crime] just as we’re looking into many other leads."
Right now, North Carolina is one of a handful of states that has a hate crime law, but doesn’t require data collection on hate crimes. There is a bill at the state level in the Senate, however, that would increase the scope and punishment of hate crimes in North Carolina.
Senate Bill 794, the Hate Crime Prevention Act, would also require the State Bureau of Investigation to create and maintain a hate crime statistics database and require the state Justice Academy to give law enforcement officers training on identifying, responding to and reporting hate crimes.
The bill also states the Conference of District Attorneys of North Carolina would give prosecutors training on how to prosecute hate crimes.