Prosecutor mulls hate crime charge in beating of black pastor

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. -- A Port Orchard pastor claims he was the victim of a hate crime when a group of white men viciously beat him and called him the N-word last week.

One man suspected in beating is now behind bars on a separate charge, but prosecutors say he could be charged with a hate crime.

Pastor Mark Litton said the racial slurs he was hit with last Wednesday outside of a Port Orchard bar hurt more than the punches or kicks to his head

"There were several white gentlemen using the N-word," Litton said. "They called it to be a degrading thing. It really hurts, you know."

Litton said he came to the bar to pick up his son when a group of men started harassing him from the parking lot. Then things got even worse when he began to walk back outside to wait in his car.

"As I'm going out the door, one of the gentleman walked behind and kicked me. And as he kicked me I asked him what was his problem and he said, '(N-word), you're my problem,"' Litton said.

Just as he made it out the front door, Litton said the group began punching and kicking him in the body and face until other patrons stepped in and broke it up.

Police believe 25-year-old Jeff Schroeder was the ringleader that night. He was arrested Monday and booked on suspicion of malicious harassment, but prosecutors could soon charge him with a hate crime.

Litton has been the pastor at Bremerton's New Horizon Baptist Church for years and said he knows Schroeder's ex-girlfriend. Police say it appears Litton was counseling her, as he does for a number of parishioners.

As for Schroeder, Litton said he doesn't know him at all.

Prosecutors are still gathering evidence in the case and will soon decide if it was a hate crime or motivated by something else. A hate crime carries a much stiffer penalty than an assault.