EDMONDS — A man has been charged with a felony hate crime for allegedly spewing racist threats at an animal control officer in Edmonds.
Sean Wagner, 34, of Cle Elum, is accused of telling the officer, who is Black, to “go back to Africa” and also saying, “We are going to get you and we will fix this.” Snohomish County prosecutors alleged he has several tattoos depicting Nazi imagery.
On the afternoon of April 14, animal control officers were called to a motel off Highway 99, where Wagner was staying. Someone reportedly complained puppies had been barking and howling for two days in the canopy of a truck.
When the officers got there, they decided to take the four dogs to the PAWS shelter in Lynnwood because of reportedly unsafe conditions in the truck. One of the officers left a note for their owner.
Minutes later, Wagner called. He was “extremely agitated” on the phone, according to the charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court in late October. He eventually told the officer to “(expletive) off” before hanging up.
About 30 minutes later, Wagner arrived at PAWS with his three children, according to court papers. He was “hostile from the beginning,” prosecutors wrote. The officer went outside to get Wagner to leave because he was apparently scaring employees at the animal shelter.
Court documents say he was “immediately aggressive” with the officer. He called her a racist slur.
He then told her to “go back to Africa.”
She then went back inside while Wagner walked toward the back of the building. Wagner yelled, flipped off employees, and at one point, chased one of their cars as they left the parking lot, according to the charges. The officer called for backup. Wagner returned to the front of the building, screaming and banging on doors and windows. He was told to come back the next day for his dogs.
Wagner then walked toward the officer, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth, prosecutors alleged. The officer placed her hand on her Taser and asked Wagner to step back. He allegedly used a slur a couple more times. Two of his kids began to cry.
He walked to within arm’s reach of the officer to take out his phone and show her a picture of him with a Nazi flag. This is when Wagner told her, “We are going to get you” and that he was going to kick the officer’s “(expletive).”
Taking his words as threats, the officer drew her Taser and again told him to back up. She pointed it at Wagner’s chest, which got him to stop approaching.
Other officers began to arrive.
Under state law, the victim must have a “reasonable fear of harm” for an act to be considered a hate crime. Words alone are not a hate crime, without a specific threat.
Deputy prosecutor Justin Harleman believes the words in this case reached the threshold.
“Using words like this are clearly a precursor to taking violent action,” he said in an interview.
On Wagner’s chest, there was reportedly a swastika and the Nazi eagle, according to court documents. When an officer pointed those out, he responded with something like, “That’s right, the nationalist party.” Wagner said he understood the officer was just following orders.
“I follow orders too,” he went on to say, according to the charges. “It’s coming. We’re just waiting for the right moment, but it’s coming. When the order is given, you won’t be able to do anything about it. We’ll win.”
Wagner reportedly said he was willing to die for his beliefs, court papers say.
Detectives asked the Anti-Defamation League to analyze Wagner’s tattoos for other racist connotations.
“Some didn’t need analysis,” Harleman noted.
Prosecutors said the advocacy group found other white supremacist symbols tattooed on Wagner’s body.
His arraignment is set for Nov. 18. He had no criminal history, according to court papers.
Cases like these don’t always get prosecuted, Harleman said. Twenty alleged hate crimes were referred to the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office for review last year. There were 17 referrals in 2019; 19 in 2018; and 10 in 2017.
Yet over a third of those didn’t result in any felony charges.
So far this year, 12 hate crime investigations have been referred to the prosecutor’s office for possible felony charges.
“These crimes happen,” Harleman said, “and they’re not always recognized as they should be.”