San Francisco, California - A federal jury convicted a California man today of a federal hate crime for attacking a Black man with a knife on a street in Santa Cruz.

Ole Hougen, 44, of Santa Cruz, was convicted of willfully attempting to cause bodily injury by using a dangerous weapon because of a person’s actual or perceived race and color.

According to evidence presented at trial, Hougen confronted a 29-year-old Black man who was crossing a street in Santa Cruz. Hougen took out a nine-inch knife and swiped multiple times at the man’s head, chest, and stomach, while yelling racial slurs at him. 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 Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute bias-motivated crimes like this one in an effort to secure justice for victims of these crimes and the communities they are meant to target and intimidate,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“Strict enforcement of laws prohibiting the targeting of vulnerable groups is essential to the proper functioning of our democratic society,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds for the Northern District of California. “This office is one of the four U.S. Attorney’s offices throughout the country chosen by the Attorney General to work with other Justice Department components to review our structure of anti-hate law enforcement and make recommendations to improve the system. This is just another indication that this office is committed to ensuring the thoughtful deployment of resources to address hate crimes and unlawful discrimination.”

“The FBI worked closely with the Santa Cruz Police Department to bring justice for this shocking, horrific attack,” said Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair of the FBI San Francisco Field Office. “The FBI will use all authority granted to us by federal law to investigate hate crimes meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community. Acts of hate and racism have no place here and will not be tolerated. I urge members of our community to report any hate incidents to local or federal law enforcement so we can bring offenders to justice.” 

Hougen is scheduled to be sentenced on July 26 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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.

The verdict comes on the heels of a decision by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to conduct a 30-day review of the department’s enforcement efforts to address hate-based violence and discrimination. The working group was assembled to make recommendations for improving hate crime and unlawful discrimination investigations and prosecutions.