Man Who Allegedly Told U.S. Olympian Sakura Kokumai 'Go Home,' Punched Couple, Is Arrested

A man in California accused of threatening Japanese American Olympic karate athlete Sakura Kokumai in early April, and allegedly punching an elderly Korean American couple to the ground on Sunday, has been arrested, authorities said Monday.

Michael Vivona of Corona, 25, was arrested Sunday after he allegedly punched the couple (a 79-year-old man and 80-year-old woman) in their faces while they were walking through Grijalva Park in Orange that evening.

Sgt. Phil McMullin of the Orange Police Department said: "The couple was on one of their evening walks as they do on a regular basis at this park when our suspect approached, unprovoked, and punched both of them in the face, causing both of them to fall to the ground."

The couple suffered minor injuries and were released after being treated at the scene.

Vivona was also accused of targeting Kokumai—a native of Los Angeles who will be competing in the 2021 Tokyo Games—on April 1 at Grijalva Park where she was warming up for a run.

The U.S. Olympian shared videos of the incident in a post on Instagram at the time. Vivona was heard shouting: "You're a loser. Go home, you stupid b****. I'll f***you up," at Kokuma in one video. He was also heard yelling "Chinese" in another video shared.

At the time, Kokumai wrote in the post: "Couldn't stop thinking about what happened yesterday...I don't know which was worse, a stranger yelling and threatening to hurt me for no reason or people around me who witnessed everything and not doing a thing."

She noted a woman had come up to ask whether she was okay "towards the end as it escalated."

The suspect was booked into Orange County Jail on two counts of elder abuse and one count of criminal threats relating to the incident in early April. McMullin said police were able to charge Vivona with hate crimes for both cases following questioning.

While the suspect did not make any statements during the attack on the couple, McMullin said: "It was later in our interview that his statements informed us that it was a racially motivated attack." McMullin added that the suspect made many such comments.

"He's got this fixation against Asians. Basically he said he did it because they were Asian, I think because he said they're Chinese."

Police said Vivona is currently homeless but provided them with a Corona address that he frequents.

Newsweek has contacted the Orange Police Department and Kokumai for further comment.

Orange County, home to the country's third largest Asian population, saw a tenfold rise in hate incident reports last year, according to Alison Edwards, chief executive of Orange County Human Relations, a nonprofit group working with the county to track and respond to hate crimes and racism.

The incidents that took place at Grijalva Park are the latest in a recent spate of attacks against Asian Americans reported in recent months, including three shootings that took place at three massage parlors in and around Atlanta, Georgia. Six of the eight people killed in the attacks were Asian women.

Hate crimes against Asians have been on the rise in the country since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first reported in Wuhan, China.

In 2020, such crimes were reported to have increased by nearly 150 percent compared with the previous year, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.

Stop Asian hate rally vigil March 2021
People hold lights during a vigil for those who died from COVID-19 and in a plea to "Stop Asian Hate" on March 4 in Fountain Valley of Orange County, California. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images