7 Investigates: Accuracy issues in FBI hate crime reporting include Wisconsin data

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(WSAW) -- The FBI reported a spike in the number of hate crimes rising in America, but according to what Gray Television's national Investigate TV team found, there are problems with those numbers and Wisconsin is not immune.

Investigate TV found the FBI is not reporting its own numbers about hate crimes despite a law requiring them to do so, and local departments are not required to report them. Overall, law enforcement throughout north central Wisconsin are choosing to report their numbers.

"Crime is bad as it is, but if you are selecting someone just because they are x: they are a certain race, or have a certain religion, that makes it even more concerning to the public at large," Portage County District Attorney Louis Molepske said.

Public safety is why tracking data about hate crimes is significant; laws are made and policies are changed because of statistics that are assumed to be reliable.

There are caveats to the data that is reported, including a recent case in Portage County. In March of 2017, a Hmong woman was gardening at her home in Junction City; her next door neighbor, Henry Kaminski started yelling at her, went back into his home, came back out with a gun and shot the ground near her.

Ultimately, Kaminski was charged and convicted of hate crimes, but when you look at the FBI's statistic's for that year, Portage County reported zero hate crimes. The data is based off the charges departments recommend the the district attorney's office, not what's actually charged in court.

"When you send it up to the district attorney's office, you are giving them the facts that you see and what you can prove," said Portage County Sheriff Mike Lukas, "and then you're leaving it up to the district attorney's office in regards to 'okay, does this qualify as enhancer?' And leaving it up to them in regards to charging it out that way."

Lukas said if investigators are not confident they can prove a victim was targeted beyond a reasonable doubt because of their race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or ancestry, they are not going to recommend it.

That is what happened in the Kaminski case. Molepske said he did further digging before adding the hate crime enhancer.

"As I dived (sic) into the report, and then was able to speak to witnesses and also use the services of a ex-Wausau police officer who's also Hmong-American and he could converse with the witness better to understand some of the concerns that she had, it really became evident that she was either selected wholly, partly, for victimization based upon her race," he said.

Again, even though Kaminski was convicted of hate crimes, it was not reported because it was added after it left the Portage County Sheriff's Office.

The opposite problem has also happened in the NewsChannel 7 viewing area.

Wisconsin Rapids Police reported a hate crime because of sexual orientation to the FBI in August, 2017. Two groups of people dining at a restaurant, walked out and got into a fight because a man from one group blew a kiss into a man of the other group's ear. When police arrived the groups told two different stories.

One side said the other group was making homosexual slurs at them which caused one of the men in that group to blow a kiss and walk out. The other side said the man came up just centimeters from the ear of one of the men in their group and blew a kiss out of nowhere. The Wood County district attorney's office took the officer's recommended hate crime charges, but they ultimately dismissed them.

"The most concerning thing is that the FBI apparently is only tracking the referred charge and that should change. It should be the conviction," Molepske said.

Lukas agreed saying the Wisconsin District Attorney's Office should report the statistics after conviction, but added it is good for local departments to be transparent.

"I think it's beneficial for people to see what goes on in the community and what the sheriff's office is actually requesting charges on," he said.

A few other cases reported as hate crimes from local departments include vandalism of a church in Tomahawk in 2017. Someone had painted a swastika on the church, but the police report did not list a suspect.

In 2014, Vilas County Sheriff's Office reported a case to the FBI's statistics where a juvenile lit a fire in a church.

7 Investigates requested other cases reported in the FBI's statistics, but did not receive many of them in time for this story.