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Man punched woman after she identified self as Native American

Ashland police are trying to find a man who is believed to have hit an Ashland woman in the face after she identified herself as Native American.

It’s not yet being described as a hate crime, according to police, because they have not been able to find the man and ask for his side of the story.

“We’re calling it an intimidation investigation, because we’re concerned with his reaction to the Native American ancestry," said Deputy Chief Warren Hensman. "If we can find him, we can investigate further with his statements.” 

Police said the man got into an argument with the 21-year-old woman, who police wouldn’t identify, at roughly 12:45 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, inside the Vinyl Club on Will Dodge Way in Ashland.

"I think it was quite disturbing and shocking to this young woman, and she was distraught. I feel horrible for this woman who thought she was having a nice conversation and it suddenly turned violent,” said Hensman.

The club’s bouncer heard about it and tried to stop the man from running away. But the suspect allegedly got into a fight with the bouncer and took off, police said. The suspect is described as a white man with long dreadlocks who was wearing a green sweatshirt and tan pants. Police said he may have marks on his face from the fight with the bouncer.

Police recovered photos from the club, and they’ve been distributing them in hopes someone might know who the guy is.

“We have no idea who he is, and we have a somewhat generic description. The still photographs aren’t that great, but if someone knows him they might recognize him,” said Hensman.

The deputy chief described the assault as an isolated incident.

“I can’t recall an investigation where anything like this has happened before. We don’t see grown adult males punching grown women. To me that stands out as well.”

Asked whether he has seen an uptick in violence directed toward people of color since the election, as has reportedly occurred in other places, Hensman said Ashland police have received no other local reports.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 701 incidents of hateful incidents and harassment since the election. The data came from tracking news articles, social media and submissions to its site. The SLPC said while incidents rose within the first three days after the election, the reports are trending down.

Hensman noted that the incident occurred in the early hours at a bar where the suspect was drinking alcohol.

“We see bar fights when people are drinking,” Hensman said. “It was a club and late and alcohol was involved, so that’s part of it.”

That said, he added, “Right now it all points to the fact that she was punched in the face because of her conversation about being Native American.”

Police said the woman was not seriously injured and was supported by others on the night of the incident.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Ashland Police Department at 541-482-5211 or the anonymous tip line at 541-552-2333 or email tipline@ashland.or.us.

— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

A still image from a security camera on Will Dodge Way early Saturday shows a man in the alley suspected of punching a woman after she said she is Native American. Image courtesy of Ashland Police Department