Michael Sangbong Rhee was arrested by the Irvine Police Department (IPD) on April 8 after attempting to kidnap and sexually assault a woman outside her apartment, located near the intersection at Harvard Avenue and Coronado area. The attacker was allegedly motivated by the recent increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Rhee allegedly approached the victim sitting in her parked car with the door open at approximately 1:30 p.m. on April 8. According to the IPD, Rhee stood at the door and forced the woman into the backseat at gunpoint, saying that she had to do what he said if she wanted to live.
The victim offered her wallet and cash, but according to the statement by the IPD, Rhee said that they would “do that later.” Believing that Rhee intended to sexually assault or kill her, she attempted to escape. During the struggle, Rhee allegedly committed sexual battery against her.
Rhee fled the scene in his vehicle after the victim yelled to a nearby maintenance man that her attacker was armed. According to the police officials, Rhee was tracked down to his home in Lake Forest using his license plate which was captured by apartment surveillance.
At his home, officers recovered items connecting him to the incident, including a BB gun that resembled the gun the victim described.
Based on their investigation, the IPD believes that Rhee — who is Korean — acted in retaliation for the recent uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country. Rhee attacked the victim after mistakenly believing that the victim was white. IPD will be updating the complaint to the Orange County District Attorney’s office with hate crime charges.
Since the onset of the pandemic, race-based discrimination and violence directed towards Asian Americans has been on a steady rise, particularly fueled by the rhetoric used by politicians including former President Donald Trump who repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus.”
According to a study conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals rose by approximately 149% since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, while overall hate crimes fell 7%.
Movements calling for an end to race-based discrimination and violence against AAPI individuals gained traction earlier this year with an increase in attacks against the elderly and the mass shootings last month at three spas in Atlanta which killed eight people — six of whom were of Asian women.
“The Irvine Police Department (IPD) and the City of Irvine do not tolerate violent crimes against women or hate-related crimes in our community,” the IPD said in their statement announcing Rhee’s arrest.
The IPD asks anyone with information regarding the case to contact Detective Haldor Larum at (949) 724-7194 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Autumn Martin is a City News Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.