Man charged with hate crime after threatening US Olympic athlete training in California park

National News

Michael Vivona is accused of yelling, threatening and spitting in the direction of US Olympic athlete Sakura Kokumai earlier this year. (Orange Police Department; Getty Images)

(KTLA) – A man suspected of yelling threats and spitting at a U.S. Olympic karate athlete in a Southern California park earlier this year has been charged with a hate crime, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said Friday.

Michael Orlando Vivona, 26, already faces multiple hate crime charges in a separate case where he allegedly punched an older Asian couple while they were out for a walk, prosecutors stated in a news release.

Both incidents occurred at Grijalva Park in Orange back in April.

Vivona was charged Friday with violation of civil rights, a misdemeanor, in connection with the April 1 incident involving a Japanese-American Olympian, according to the news release.

The defendant is suspected of “aggressively yelling at the woman, threatening her, and spitting in her direction,” the release stated.

The athlete, 28-year-old Sakura Kokumai, told KTLA that she was at the park — where she frequently worked out in preparation for the 2021 Summer Games — when a stranger began screaming random things at her.

“He was basically just yelling stuff like, ‘Don’t talk behind my back. Why are you looking at my car?’” she told KTLA. “So things like that that made me notice it could be something a little bit, I don’t know, off. So I let it be.”

Saying she was scared, Kokumai took out her phone and began recording.

She said she wasn’t sure why she was being targeted until the man began hurling racial slurs at her as he got into his car to drive away.

“I was aware about the anti-Asian hate that was going on. You see it almost every day on the news,” Kokumai told KTLA in April. “But I didn’t think it would happen to me at a park I usually go to to train.“

According to DA Spitzer, Orange County has experienced an 1,800% increase in anti-Asian hate incidents over the past year due to nationwide backlash amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a separate incident on April 18, Vivona allegedly physically attacked a 78- and 79-year-old Korean couple, punching the husband in the face and the wife in the head as they took their nightly stroll through the park, according to the DA’s office. The force of the blows caused them each to fall.

Vivona was arrested after bystanders intervened. He “later made statements to police disparaging Asians,” prosecutors said.

He was charged with two felony counts apiece of elder abuse and battery (specifically, battery – hate crime causing injury), and also two hate-crime enhancements in that case.

Vivona now faces a possible maximum sentence of nine years in state prison and one year in jail if convicted on all charges.

He’s being held on $65,000 bail at Theo Lacy Facility.

Spitzer urges anyone who believes they observed, or is the victim of a hate crime, to report it to local law enforcement.

“I will not tolerate and will punish all criminal haters,” he said in the release. “Orange County law enforcement and prosecutors are properly trained and will investigate and prosecute haters to the fullest extent of the law.”

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