California Man Sentenced to More Than Six Years in Prison for Federal Hate Crime Conviction

A California man was sentenced to 82 months in prison for committing a federal hate crime in connection with attacking a Black man with a knife in Santa Cruz, California. The sentence was handed down by the Hon. Edward J. Davila, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California.

Ole Hougen, 45, of Santa Cruz, California, was convicted of the crime on April 9. According to evidence presented at trial, Hougen confronted a 29-year-old Black man who was crossing the street in Santa Cruz. Hougen began screaming racial slurs at him. Hougen then brandished a nine-inch knife and slashed multiple times at the man’s head, chest and stomach, while yelling the racial slurs. A witness testified that Hougen slashed and stabbed at the victim’s head and chest approximately 10-20 times. At the time of the attack, Hougen was on probation after pleading no contest to state charges that he committed a racially motivated assault on a different Black man in 2018. The trial also included evidence of several other incidents where Hougen threatened or committed violent acts while yelling racial slurs. This conviction represents Hougen’s fourth known racially motivated attack against Black men in the last seven years.

A federal grand jury indicted Hougen on Nov. 17, 2020, charging him with a violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. After a six-day trial, a jury convicted Hougen of the charge. It is the first conviction and sentencing in the Northern District of California under the Shepard-Byrd Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009.

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“Racially motivated crimes have no place in our society. This defendant has attacked at least four people because they are Black, and for his most recent racially motivated attack of a Black man the defendant has been convicted,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute bias-motivated crimes in an effort to secure justice for victims of these crimes and the communities they are meant to target and intimidate.”

“Racially motivated violent attacks cannot be tolerated in any society,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds for the Northern District of California. “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act provides significant penalties for violence motivated by racism and other group-hate.  This office will use this and every other tool to ensure prosecutions are brought down on criminals committing violence motivated by animus towards our community’s protected groups.”

“Ole Hougen’s violent assault didn’t just attack an individual, he attacked the entire community associated with the victim,” said Acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “All crime is unacceptable, but hate crimes are particularly cruel. They strike at an unchangeable, fundamental, and defining part of a victim’s identity. In this way, they attack everyone who identifies with this victim. Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s Civil Rights Program because each crime threatens the freedoms and protections guaranteed to all our communities.”

In addition to the prison term, Judge Davila also sentenced Hougen to three years of supervised release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marissa Harris and Trial Attorney Michael J. Songer of the Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case on behalf of the government. The FBI San Francisco Field Office conducted the investigation with the assistance of the Santa Cruz Police Department.

For more information and resources on the department’s efforts to combat hate crimes, visit www.justice.gov/hatecrimes. If you believe you have been a victim of a civil rights violation, please visit: https://civilrights.justice.gov/ to file a report.

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