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In what may be a first for the state, a teenager in Utah is being accused of committing a hate crime against police after allegedly crumpling, stomping on, and then throwing a “Back the Blue” sign into the trash.
The unidentified woman, 19, in Garfield County, Utah, was arrested on July 7 and charged with disorderly conduct and criminal mischief, according to charging documents provided to VICE News. Police are also attempting to use the state’s recently expanded hate crime laws to upgrade the charges against her, although it’s not clear whether she’s been officially charged yet, the ACLU of Utah told VICE News.
Her arrest may be the first instance of a hate crime enhancement being brought against someone accused of committing a crime against a member of law enforcement since the state made that possible in 2019.
It’s unclear if the enhancement bumps up the charge to an actual hate crime under Utah law or changes the seriousness of the charge. The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office told VICE News Monday that the woman has since been released from jail. When asked for further comment about the charges, the sheriff’s office forwarded questions to the Garfield County Attorney’s Office, which did not immediately respond.
The incident took place at a gas station in the city of Panguitch, according to KSL Radio According to the outlet, a sheriff’s deputy was leaving the scene of a traffic stop where he ticketed a driver for speeding. As nearby friends consoled the driver, one of them, a 19-year-old with the Back the Blue sign, caught the officer’s eye.
The woman was stomping on the sign while smirking “in an intimidating manner,” the officer wrote in the arrest document, according to the outlet.
"Due to the demeanor displayed by (the woman) in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a pro law enforcement sign, the allegations are being treated as a hate crime enhanced allegation," the deputy who conducted the arrest wrote in his affidavit, according to KSL.
In accordance with Utah’s hate crime law any crime committed “with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person” has their crime elevated to a more severe offense. In 2019, the Utah state senate passed legislation adding law enforcement to the list of groups who can be targeted by hate crimes. At the time, the ACLU worried the expansion opened the door to numerous issues with how hate crimes are interpreted in the state and could even be used against the very communities the law is meant to protect.
“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 Monday in a statement about the 19-year-old’s arrest. “We consistently warn that enhancements are oftentimes used to single out unpopular groups or messages rather than provide protections for marginalized communities. This case has confirmed those warnings.”