By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Like many ambitious, young University of Washington students anxious about college exams, third-year junior Jarred Ha studied for a test for the upcoming week, writing down everything he recalled from his class. Except Ha did this from the King County jail as a result of an incident in which he defended himself from an attack near the University of Washington (UW) campus.
Ha is seeking to get back into the UW and continue his accounting studies in the Foster School of Business.
A dispute turns ugly
On the night of Jan. 25, 2015, Ha and his friends were heading out for a “21 run” — a rite of passage for many young adults in which they head to a bar on their 21st birthday. It was a celebration of the newfound freedom of getting into a place that they previously could not enter.
Ha was celebrating a friend. The group of young students headed out to bars near the UW campus. After the third bar, the birthday girl was done for the night. Ha and others walked her back to her place, known as the “rugby house” because many rugby team members resided in that house in the University District.
Ha and a friend stayed outside of the house while others ensured that the newly minted 21-year-old made it to bed safely.
While waiting, Ha encountered a woman that resided in his apartment complex a few blocks away. Notably, she had parked near Ha, and he had had issues with the way she parked in the past.
What started as a conversation over the parking spot turned heated. Ha recalled saying to the woman, “You need to park straighter.” Ha recalled that the woman was inebriated and struck Ha in the face. The woman attempted to hit him again, but Ha blocked the blow and the woman fell to the ground.
Ha said he attempted to help the woman up. “Honestly, this girl walks by my front door, and she ended up on the ground.”
As Ha recounted, the woman’s friends swarmed upon Ha and hit and pushed him repeatedly. Ha said he defended himself, which included pushing and punching out of harm’s way.
When Ha and his friend thought they had safely retreated and were about to head home, Ha saw and heard a man yelling in their direction.
Ha distinctly remembered that the man wore an American Flag tank top. The man, Graham Harper, charged the two in apparent rage interpreting Ha’s actions as him striking a woman. Ha recalled Harper saying, “You like to hit girls,” in anger.
Harper, also a UW student and a National Guard reservist, struck Ha repeatedly and threw Ha’s head into a parked car. The attack did not stop after that. Ha, afraid for his life, decided to pull out a knife as a last resort.
The knife, a karambit — a curved knife resembling a claw — was given to him by his father, as a means of self-defense. Ha attempted to use the knife as a deterrent by showing it to Harper in hopes that he would stop his attack.
However, Harper continued. Ha tried to aim at Harper’s legs. The attack stopped, but Ha did not immediately know if he had struck Harper.
“I started realizing what happened,” Ha stated. “I looked at the knife and did not see anything on it. [I thought to myself,] oh, maybe I didn’t get him.” Ha believed that by swinging the knife low at Harper, he had missed.
But Ha later found out that he had stabbed Harper several times.
The police showed up at his apartment soon after. He was taken into custody Sunday morning and spent a night in jail before his parents were able to bail him out on Monday.
“…the worst I felt.”
“The car ride home from jail was the worst I felt,” Ha said, “knowing that my family knew what happened to me.”
Prior to the incident, Ha had never been in trouble with the law, let alone been in a fight. He now faced criminal charges, which carried a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.
In addition, Ha was served with papers in prison from the UW, which put him on temporary suspension.
The UW was contacted for this story but declined to comment, citing privacy laws under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Ha was charged with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and fourth-degree assault for punching a woman in the face. Ha claimed self-defense for his actions. During the trial, the prosecution intimated that Ha had a martial arts background, which apparently enhanced the severity of the attack.
The prosecutor pointed out that Ha was a part of a Chinese Lion Dance troupe, which involved martial arts. Ha was a member of the International School of Lion Dance and Martial Arts when he was in high school.
Prosecutors attempted to leverage this information into a theme that Ha was a skilled martial artist and the knifing of Harper was committed with bad intentions.
Harper indicated that his left leg, chest, and groin were cut and his abdomen was punctured by the knife. According to court testimony, a woman that was with Harper, immediately after the knifing by Ha, stated that Harper said, “Some Chink did this to me.”
Harper, who was 19 at the time, had a blood alcohol content of 0.13 at the time of the fight, according to the Seattle Times.
An important decision
This past January, Ha was faced with a decision that could have affected his life forever. The King County prosecutor’s office offered Ha a deal so that he would not have to gamble with a jury decision.
However, the deal did not guarantee that he would not face jail time. The alternative was the possibility of a maximum sentence of 12 years in jail. That would be a certain loss of his youth, freedom, and potential career as an accountant.
Ha believed in his attorneys, Zachary Wagnild and Michelle Scudder, and believed that the unbiased witnesses that testified at trial were very strong.
Still, Ha weighed his decision heavily. He felt that he had not done anything wrong and decided to proceed with the trial.
“Jarred has an amazing family,” stated Wagnild. Wagnild and Scudder answered any questions that the Ha family had about the process and advised them on the strengths and weaknesses of the case. As in all cases, it is ultimately the client’s decision to go forward with trial.
“Frankly, I was impressed of how he was,” Scudder said.
Ha recalled that the jury deliberated for a long time after a trial that lasted almost two weeks. The trial ended mid-way through Thursday of the second week and the jury deliberated into Friday.
On Friday afternoon, Ha received word that the jury had come to a decision.
“From 9 [a.m.] to 3 [p.m.], I was just wondering if I would spend the next 12 years in prison,” said Ha. For most of the day Friday, Ha, his family, and extended family stayed with him in the food court of the Columbia Tower until he received the call telling him that the jury had made a decision.
“When I first heard the words ‘not guilty,’ I was oblivious because the judge read the jury verdict form,” said Ha.
Having watched his share of courtroom dramas, Ha had thought there would be much more build-up to the result. Instead, King County Superior Court Judge Mariane Spearman simply read the verdict. Once it sunk in, he hugged his lawyers and family.
The 12-person jury, which acquitted Ha of his criminal charges, included at least three Asians.
In addition to being acquitted of the charges, a special verdict indicated that Ha was acting in self-defense with the attack on Harper and as a result, was entitled to attorney fees and costs.
In February, Spearman awarded Ha and his attorneys the full amount requested of $45,103.98. The prosecutor had opposed the request seeking a reduction of the amount requested but was denied by Judge Spearman.
Returning to school
Harper has filed a civil suit seeking monetary damages. The civil lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court claims that Graham Harper saw a woman crying, and she claimed she was struck by Ha. The civil case continues on without a trial date set yet.
Ha has been out of school since the incident last January. He moved back to live with his parents and worked part-time at his mother’s dentist office while waiting for trial. However, Ha, an Issaquah High School graduate, wanted to return to the UW to complete his degree in accounting.
In recent negotiations between Ha’s attorneys and the UW, Ha indicated that he is reapplying and it looks as though he should be back by spring quarter of this year. He will need to apply with the Foster School of Business, but he believes that he should also be admitted once again.
Having heard of Ha’s plight, the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW) adopted a resolution in support of Ha. Kevin Celustka, a member of the student senate, had read of the incident last year but did not hear Ha’s side of the story until reading an “Ask me anything” that Ha participated in on Reddit.
Last week, the ASUW drafted a resolution in support of Ha and his situation with the school. “The focus of the resolution written by [student] Senator [Alec] Slaney is on the use of emergency suspensions on students in circumstances like Jarred’s, in hopes that the practice is defined fairly for future use.” The resolution is still pending before the student senate at this time.
Ha said he would like to pursue accounting and live an ordinary life, putting aside the troubles of one night behind him. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.