CEDAR CITY — A 19-year-old woman has been charged with a hate crime following a traffic stop in Panguitch last week.
Charging documents indicate that on July 7, a Garfield County Sheriff’s deputy pulled over a vehicle for speeding near a gas station on Panguitch’s Main Street.
“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 filed in support of the charges.
“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.
Although the woman reportedly said the sign belonged to her mother, who lives in California, police said the sign had been produced locally within the community.
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.
In response to the news, the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah issued a news release Monday evening saying the organization is “extremely troubled and disappointed” by the recent decision of the Garfield County Attorney’s office to apply a hate crime enhancement to the case in question.
“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 of Utah release states. “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 statement continued to say that Gibson’s case has “confirmed those warnings.”
“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 ACLU release added.
Gibson, whose place of residence has not been listed on court documents filed thus far, has since been released from custody after promising to appear later to answer the charges. Although a court date has not yet been set, the case has been assigned to 6th District Judge Marvin D. Bagley.
This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement and court documents and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained.
Update July 15, 2:30 p.m. The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday issued a news release addressing the incident further. After providing additional details regarding the circumstances surrounding the traffic stop on July 7, the statement from Sheriff Danny Perkins says, “Lauren Gibson from California showed extremely aggressive and violent behavior toward the officer in a very busy parking lot.” He added that Gibson “purposely targeted the officer in a very unpeaceful manner.” Perkins also noted that the officer in question is a veteran with an “exemplary” record.
“The simple fact is, while this officer was doing his duty in a proactive and compassionate manner, he was singled out and attacked by this person because he is a law enforcement officer,” Perkins said in the release. To read the full statement from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, click here.
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