A 19-year-old girl was charged with disorderly conduct and “criminal mischief” with a hate-crime enhancement after she allegedly crumpled a “back the blue” sign in front of a sheriff’s deputy.
As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, “A sheriff’s deputy was wrapping up a routine traffic stop at a Utah gas station last week when he saw a teen take a ‘back the blue’ sign — which urged support for police officers — and stomp on it after her friend was pulled over.”
The 19-year-old “then allegedly crumpled it up in a ‘destructive manner’ and threw it in a trash can, Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Cree Carter wrote in an affidavit. The officer, who accused [the teen] of allegedly ‘smirking’ at him ‘in an intimidating manner,’ arrested her,” per The Post.
“Due to the demeanor displayed by Gibson in attempts to intimate law enforcement while destroying a ‘Pro Law Enforcement’ sign the allegations are being treated as a ‘Hate Crime’ enhanced allegation,” Carter wrote in his affidavit. The misdemeanor could reportedly lead to a maximum one-year sentence.
“The [‘criminal mischief’ with a hate-crime enhancement] crime, county prosecutors allege, was committed with ‘the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person’ in violation of Utah’s 2019 hate-crime law,” per The Post.
The Hill reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Utah released a statement about the matter. The group said it was “troubled and disappointed” about the “decision of the Garfield County Attorney’s office to add a hate crime enhancement to charges.”
The statement went on, “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. This concern is even greater because we do not view the enhancement as supportable under the language of the statute.”
The group added, “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.”
The teen conducted an interview with The Daily Beast, which explained her side of the story.
“[She] was in a caravan of friends heading from their camping spot in Panguitch, Utah, back to California last week when one of the cars was pulled over for speeding. The stop took place near a gas station in the small town of less than 2,000 people,” The Daily Beast reported.
The teen “said the Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy who pulled over her friend’s car was aggressive and eventually wrote her friend a ticket for speeding. After watching the interaction, she said, she was upset and picked up a rusted ‘Back the Blue’ sign that she said her friends had found on the side of the road and kept in one of the cars,” per the outlet.
“I don’t feel like I did anything wrong,” she said, noting to the outlet that she doesn’t consider herself to be “anti-police.”
“If it was a dentist’s sign or something and I just crushed a dentist sign or something in front of them, like, nothing would have happened,” she added. “It’s the same thing. it’s just an occupation.”
Per the legal background, The Beast noted, “While the model hate-crime statute that the ADL drafted for Utah was meant to protect victims of certain races, religion, or sexual orientations, [Seth Brysk, a Utah regional director with the Anti-Defamation League] said the version that eventually passed in Utah also applies that protected status to law-enforcement officers. Louisiana passed a similar addition to their hate crime statute in 2016, at a time when, as now, protests against police violence were visible in the state and nationally.”
The outlet added that a similar incident occurred last year in Utah involving a hate crime charge against a 32-year-old man who defaced a “Back the Blue” sign.
The 19-year-old claimed that “she started to glean the gist about [the previous] case from the deputy who arrested her last week,” per The Beast.
“He told me, ‘Do you want to know what happened to the last person that got arrested for this?’” she said. “He was kind of threatening me in that way.”
“A staggering 264 police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2020 representing a 96% increase compared to the previous year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund,” the outlet noted, although the Fund’s report includes deaths from COVID-19 in the category of “other” reasons.
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