A 19-year-old Utah woman was charged with a hate crime and faces up to a year in prison after a sheriff's deputy said she stomped on a pro-law enforcement "Back the Blue" sign, crumpled it, threw it in a trash can, and ended up "smirking" at the deputy in an "intimidating manner."
What are the details?
A Garfield County sheriff's deputy on Wednesday pulled over a vehicle for speeding near a gas station on Panguitch's Main Street, the St. George News reported, citing charging documents.
"As I concluded my traffic stop and released the individuals, I observed some of the individuals' friends approach them and attempt to console them," the deputy wrote in a probable cause affidavit, the News said.
"I observed one of the friends, later identified to be Lauren Gibson, stomping on a 'Back the Blue' sign next to where the traffic stop was conducted, crumble it up in a destructive manner, and throw it into a trash can all while smirking in an intimidating manner towards me," the deputy added, according the paper.
The officer noted the woman was asked where she had gotten the sign, and she stated it was her mother's, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The woman's mother lives in California, the News added.
With that the officer told her that the local sheriff's office produced those specific signs, and it was concluded "she had acquired [the sign] in our community," the Tribune said, citing the affidavit.
After reading the woman her Miranda rights, the officer stated she gave "inconsistent stories" about where she found the sign until she eventually said she found it on the ground, the Tribune added.
"Due to [the woman] destroying property that did not belong to her in a manner to attempt to intimidate law enforcement, I placed her under arrest," the Tribune reported, citing the affidavit.
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Gibson was subsequently arrested and booked into Garfield County Jail on suspicion of criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor, and disorderly conduct, an infraction.
According to the charging documents, the hate crime enhancement was applied to the criminal mischief charge "due to the demeanor displayed by Gibson in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a 'pro law enforcement' sign."
Criminal mischief is typically classified as a class B misdemeanor in Utah, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, with the hate crime enhancement, the charge elevates to a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
The applicable section of Utah State Code is 76-3-203.14, where a new section titled "Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements" was passed into law by the Utah Legislature in 2019. Under the law's definitions, a person's status as a law enforcement officer is one of 18 different personal attributes listed which may qualify a criminal offense for a possible hate crime enhancement.
ACLU blasts hate crime charge
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah on Monday said it's "extremely troubled and disappointed" by the decision by the Garfield County Attorney's office to issue a hate crime enhancement in this case, the News added.
"This kind of charging decision sends an extremely chilling message to the community that the government will seek harsher punishment for people charged with crimes who disagree with police actions," the ACLU said, according to the News. "This concern is even greater because we do not view the enhancement as supportable under the language of the statute. We consistently warn that enhancements are oftentimes used to single out unpopular groups or messages rather than provide protections for marginalized communities."
The ACLU's statement added that this case has "confirmed those warnings," the News said.
"Bringing a charge against this person that could result in her spending a year in jail makes no sense both in terms of simple fairness and expending the county's time and money," the organization added, according to the News.
The News addd that Gibson — whose place of residence has not been listed on court documents thus far — was released from custody after promising to appear to answer the charges. The paper said that although a court date hasn't been set, the case was assigned to Sixth District Judge Marvin D. Bagley.