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News / Northwest

Man accused of threatening to shoot EWU students was petitioning against gender-inclusive bathrooms, family says

By Alexandra Duggan, The Spokesman-Review
Published: October 25, 2023, 7:33am

SPOKANE — The man accused of threatening to shoot students at Eastern Washington University last week made his first appearance in court on Tuesday, when his bond was set at $250,000.

Eastern Washington University police said multiple witnesses saw 26-year-old Justin Hale on Thursday petitioning for signatures outside the Pence Union Building. He was arguing with them, using racial slurs and making threats to shoot students, police said. The university spent the weekend asking students for information on the suspect until Hale was arrested Monday morning and booked into the Spokane County Jail.

During his first appearance, state prosecutors argued Hale’s alleged comments were “severe,” noting he had made remarks that if he wasn’t in custody he would return to the school. Court documents show Hale also has a prior conviction of assault with sexual motivation when he was a minor and had failed to register as a sex offender, something that the judge is required to take into account when issuing bond.

The defense planned to reserve their arguments for a later time.

When Spokane Superior Court Judge Jeremy Schmidt set Hale’s bail at $250,000, Hale’s sister, Crystal Bautista-Cisneros, yelled from the back row of the courtroom, appearing to question why the bond was so high. She later said outside the courtroom that it was unfair the judge set the bond so high since it was clear he cannot afford it.

Bautista-Cisneros said Hale was gathering signatures on a petition against gender-inclusive and co-ed bathrooms in elementary schools. In Washington’s public schools, students are free to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The day before the incident, Hale and his wife were at the campus and nothing had happened, Bautista-Cisneros and Hale’s wife recounted outside the courtroom. Hale’s wife asked that she not be named in this story. The next day, when Hale went to the campus alone to continue gathering signatures, he came home afterwards and complained later that people were harassing him and that someone had knocked his table over.

KHQ has reported that students on campus interviewed for a story said they don’t “tolerate hate.” One student recalled the incident, saying that the suspect “got angry and threatened people with guns” and “said he would come back and shoot them with his friends.”

Bautista-Cisneros called her brother’s arrest “a crock.”

“Justin just doesn’t talk like that,” she said.

The family also claims Hale doesn’t own a Gonzaga shirt, which the university said the suspect was wearing at the time the threats were made.