ST. GEORGE — A police investigation into an image described as “racially insensitive” and “vulgar” that circulated over social media earlier this month concluded Wednesday with no criminal charges filed as authorities framed it as an issue of free speech rights.
The image was originally posted on Snapchat May 16 and drew public and media attention the next day as it made the rounds through social media. The image depicted two males on their knees being held up by the back of their shirts by the third male wearing a white hood with a Confederate flag hanging on the wall behind them.
A text posted with the image reads: “[N—–] hunting 2019. I’m glad I could fill my tags this year.” St. George News edited the text here to exclude a racial slur.
Two males in the photo were identified as students of Hurricane High School by the Washington County School District.
The district swiftly condemned the image, calling it “vulgar” and “idiocy on display.” The students were disciplined by the district as Hurricane City Police launched an investigation into the intent behind the image.
“At the conclusion of the investigation it was determined the photograph and social media post were not directed at any individual and there was no intention of harming anyone,” according to a statement from the Hurricane City Police Department.
After consulting with the FBI, as well as city and county prosecutors, investigators also concluded that the image and social media post are constitutionally protected, the police stated.
“Although we all agree the photograph was abhorrent and should never have been taken and posted to social media, it is still protected as freedom of speech,” the police department reiterated.
Under Utah’s recently passed hate crime’s law, a regular criminal charge must be filed against the offending party who then is convicted of that crime before a hate crime sentencing modifier can be considered. A prosecutor must convince the court the offender was targeting a specific person or group based on a particular trait through the words and actions of the offender.
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