Man arrested after threats against Olympian Sakura Kokumai

Weeks after police say a man threatened Olympic athlete Sakura Kokumai in an Orange County park, authorities allege he also attacked an elderly couple in the same place, leading to his arrest Sunday night.

Orange police say Michael Vivona, 25, punched two Korean Americans in the face at Grijalva Park — the same site where Kokumai filmed a man harassing her nearly three weeks ago.

A 79-year-old man and 80-year-old woman were taking a stroll Sunday evening in the park when Vivona approached them around 7:30 p.m. and, without saying much, knocked them both to the ground with his punches, Orange police spokesman Phil McMullin said.

“He didn’t make any statements when he attacked the elderly couple, but it was later in our interview that his statements informed us that it was a racially motivated attack,” McMullin said, adding that Vivona 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.”

The man and woman suffered minor injuries, McMullin said. Orange Fire Department officials responding to the scene helped the man with an abrasion on his leg from the fall.

On April 1, Kokumai, a karate champion slated to represent the United States in the 2021 Olympic Games, was warming up for a run in Grijalva Park around 5 p.m. when she saw a man police are now identifying as Vivona yelling and gesturing at her.

“You’re a loser. Go home, you stupid b—,” he said. “I’ll f— you up.”

A Japanese American woman born in Hawaii, Kokumai took videos in which a man can be heard yelling, “Chinese.” She posted the videos to her 32,000 Instagram followers. Several people walked by during the interaction, Kokumai said, but nobody offered to help until afterward.

“It felt like the longest time where the interaction was happening, but nobody did much,” Kokumai said.

Passersby at the park Sunday were aware of Kokumai’s story and recognized the man, who was wearing the same black shirt and orange shorts as in her videos, McMullin said.

Several people surrounded the man and called police. An officer stationed across the street responded and arrested Vivona at the scene where the elderly couple had been attacked, McMullin said.

“The community was awesome,” he said. “It wasn’t like they were beating him down … but they recognized him.”

Police took Vivona into custody on suspicion of elder abuse, criminal threats and hate crimes in connection with the attack on the couple and the threats against Kokumai.

“I just want to say thank you to those who stepped in to help the elderly couple,” Kokumai said in a statement Monday night. “I was nervous to share my story at the beginning, but this was a clear reminder that listening and having love for the community can make a huge difference. We all must continue to be there for one another and work with each other during this time. We are all in this together.”

Vivona, a warehouse worker, who listed an address in Corona but appeared to be experiencing homelessness, was booked in the Theo Lacy jail facility in Orange County with bail set at $65,000, according to online records. His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday. He has not yet been formally charged.

Vivona probably is living out of his car, which Kokumai photographed, McMullin said. Sunday night’s attack was the second report associated with his vehicle.

“These are the only two we’ve had,” McMullin said of the anti-Asian incidents, “but if there are any more, we would definitely want them to call us.”

Orange County saw a tenfold increase in hate incident reports in 2020, according to Alison Edwards, chief executive of Orange County Human Relations, a nonprofit that works closely with the county to track and respond to hate crimes and racism. In addition to the two attacks police have linked to Vivona, several other anti-Asian incidents have been recorded recently in the county, which has the country’s third-largest Asian population.

One Ladera Ranch family was repeatedly harassed with rocks, verbal attacks and pounding at their door over the course of several months. Another man was charged with a hate crime after authorities said he threw rocks at an Asian mother and her 6-year-old son in their car in Fullerton. Seal Beach police are investigating a racist letter mailed to a Korean American woman living at the Leisure World retirement village.

The wave of anti-Asian incidents provoked the county Board of Supervisors in March to unanimously pass two resolutions committing to action against racism and denouncing all hate crimes.

Times staff writer Hayley Smith contributed to this report.






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