A Washington State man has pleaded guilty to one count of committing a hate crime for an attempted arson targeting an LGBTQ nightclub in Seattle back in 2020.
According to documents filed in connection with the guilty plea, Kalvinn Garcia, 25, set fire to the contents of a dumpster in the alley directly behind Queer/Bar, an LGBTQ nightclub and event space located Seattle’s historically gay Capitol Hill neighborhood.
At the time, there were more than 50 people in the club and its event room. Flames from the blaze scorched the building’s brick exterior and forced the cancellation of events at the nightclub over the next few days.
At that time, the nightclub was also located across the alley from the Seattle Police East Precinct — which was abandoned later that year during demonstrations stemming from long-simmering tensions between protesters and the police department and sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The fire attracted immediate attention, and officers who were on scene observed Garcia a short distance away. Garcia attempted to flee but was apprehended.
According to case filings, Garcia was caught on surveillance video in the alley at the time flames caught and surged up the side of the building.
Following his arrest, Garcia, originally from Sedro Woolley, Washington — more than 70 miles away from Seattle — reportedly told police that he had recently become homeless, which he blamed on LGBTQ people.
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, he also reportedly told police that he had set the fire and had targeted Queer/Bar because it angered him to see a sign that said “queer.” He allegedly told officers: “I think it’s wrong that we have a bunch of queers in our society.”
Garcia was originally charged in King County Superior Court with arson and a hate crime. He was released from jail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but eventually ended up in custody of authorities in Whatcom County, where he was serving a jail sentence for theft. In November 2021, he was transferred from Whatcom County into federal custody and charged with arson for setting the fire at Queer/Bar.
On May 26, he entered a guilty plea to the hate crime charge related to the arson.
“The defendant targeted the patrons inside Queer/Bar, a known safe space for the LGBTQI+ community,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement following the guilty plea. “Hate crimes have no place in our society today and we stand ready to use our federal civil rights laws to hold perpetrators accountable. All people deserve to feel safe and secure living in their communities, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“Garcia endangered countless people who he did not know and who were simply trying to live their lives, solely because of his own hatred,” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown, of the Western District of Washington, added. “We must stand up to this hate at every opportunity to demonstrate to our community that acting on hate will not be tolerated.”
“Garcia’s hateful act endangered and spread fear in the LGBTQ+ community and caused damage to this business establishment,” Donald Voiret, the Special Agent in Charge for the FBI’s Seattle Field Office, said in a statement.
“Fortunately, our partners at the Seattle Police Department were able to respond quickly to this arson. This case shows our commitment to investigating civil rights violations with our partners.”
Garcia will next appear in court on September 20 for sentencing. According to the Justice Department, he could face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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