Asian Man Charged With Hate Crime After Allegedly Attacking Asian Woman He Thought Was White

Police in Irvine, California, arrested an Asian man on Thursday night after he attacked an Asian woman he thought was white in an attempt to sexually assault her, according to a statement from the Irvine Police Department (IPD).

After an investigation, law enforcement officials determined that based on Michael Sangbong Rhee's statements, he targeted the woman as a retaliation for hate crimes committed against the Asian community.

Anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 149 percent in 2020, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

"IPD recognizes the importance of protecting Irvine's diverse community through the vigorous investigation and documentation of all hate crimes and hate incidents that occur within its jurisdiction," Sergeant Karie Davies, a spokesperson for the IPD, told Newsweek. "Anytime one of our residents is victimized it is concerning, particularly when the crime is committed because of an actual or perceived characteristic of the victim."

Rhee, 37, has been charged with kidnapping and the intent to commit a sexual assault. He was held at Orange County Jail on $1,000,000 bail. Davies said that Rhee posted bail on Saturday and paid 10 percent of the amount "to bail out."

Irvine, Calif. (April 9, 2021) – Last night, Irvine Police arrested 37-year-old Michael Sangbong Rhee for kidnapping with the intent to commit a sexual assault against a woman at an apartment complex.

— Irvine Police Department (@IrvinePolice) April 10, 2021

Davies added that Penal Code 422.75, one of California's hate crime statutes, was added to the complaint that was filed with the Orange County District Attorney's office as they review the case.

"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 department's statement read.

"In the year 2020, there was one Asian hate crime and three hate incidents," Davies said. "Even one is too many but we have not experienced the rise in anti-Asian incidents that some other cities have seen."

Rhee's attack on the Asian woman began about 1:30 p.m. Thursday at an apartment complex, according to the police statement. He approached her with a handgun while she sat in the driver's side of her vehicle with the door open.

Rhee threatened her by saying if she wanted to live, she had to move to the back of her car.

In an attempt to bargain with Rhee, the woman offered her wallet and money, which he denied, and said that they would "do that later." He pushed her into the back seat while he opened the rear passenger door to further his attack, police said.

"The victim believed she was going to be sexually assaulted or killed and began to look for an opportunity to escape," the statement said. "As she struggled with Rhee, he committed a sexual battery against her."

Finally, the woman was able to yell for help and alerted a nearby maintenance worker that Rhee had a gun. This prompted Rhee to flee as he made a dash through the apartment community and departed in his vehicle, police said.

Rhee's license plate was captured by a surveillance camera that brought IPD detectives to Rhee's home in Lake Forest, a city in Orange County, where he was detained and served a search warrant while detectives searched his home.

"Several items were recovered from his home and vehicle linking him to the assault," police said. "One of the items collected from the vehicle was a BB gun similar to the weapon described by the victim."

The announcement of Rhee's arrest concluded with police asking anyone with further information to contact Detective Haldor Larum at 949-724-7194 or email

In March, the IPD announced an expansion of its online live hate crime and hate incident portal, Davies said, where incidents can be reported by the public.

Police Car With Sirens
Last week in Irvine California, the Irvine Police Department announced it had arrested Michael Sangbong Rhee after he allegedly attacked an Asian woman he thought was white. In the photo, Redlands police officers secure a blockade during a manhunt for the former Los Angeles Police Department Officer Christopher Dorner on February 12, 2013 in Yucaipa, California. Dorner, a former Navy Reserve veteran, was wanted in connection with the deaths of an Irvine couple and a Riverside police officer. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images