Sonoma police are investigating a suspected hate crime after a Sonoma Valley school employee reported he was assaulted by a masked person, possibly wielding a stick, after he walked out of his workplace Thursday night and found his vehicle tagged with derogatory words.

The victim, an employee at the El Verano Family Resource Center at El Verano Elementary School, had returned to campus at about 8:10 p.m. to retrieve a personal item inside his office, Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno wrote in a letter to families of El Verano students Friday morning.

When the victim came out of the school, he saw the word “beaner” and another epithet had been spray-painted on his car, Sonoma Police Chief Brett Sackett said.

The employee then saw a person wearing dark clothing, a hoodie and a mask over his face, Sackett said. The assailant struck the school employee on the arm with an object, possibly a stick, then fled on foot without saying a word, Sackett said.

The employee, who was shaken up but not seriously injured, was driven home by a school custodian after speaking to Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Carlomagno said. The man later went to the emergency room and was released.

Sonoma police are treating the incident as a potential hate crime, Sackett said.

“Hate crimes deal with motivation and we don’t know the motivation,” Sackett said. “But this has the overtones of a potential hate crime.”

The suspect has been described as likely a male, 5 foot 8 to 5 feet 10 inches tall. No other identifying information was immediately available.

Deputies were canvassing the neighborhood for more information, Sackett said.

“It is disheartening to see this happen on one of our campuses,” Carlomagno wrote in her letter. “El Verano School, as well as all the schools in our valley, prioritize the safety of our students, staff and campus visitors. We are constantly reviewing the security procedures and will continue to do so.”

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.