Utah is prosecuting a hate-crime case that conservatives might support.
Lauren Gibson has been charged with stomping on a “Back the Blue” sign in an effort to intimidate a Garfield County sheriff’s deputy at a traffic stop, according to National Public Radio and local news sources.
The officer called it an “attempt to intimidate law enforcement” and thus actionable as a hate crime.
Utah is among at least five states — the others being Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Hampshire — with hate-crime laws under which law enforcement officers are a protected category alongside race, sex and others.
Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Cree Carter made the arrest when he pulled over a group for speeding near a gas station in Panguitch.
“As I concluded my traffic stop and released the individuals, I observed some of the individuals’ friends approach them and attempt to console them,” Deputy Carter wrote in the arrest affidavit.
“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,” he wrote.
When interviewed by NPR on Thursday morning, Garfield County Attorney Barry Huntington was unsure of a court date, but said the case is going forward.
Ms. Gibson, 19, has retained an attorney, he said.
She has been charged with disorderly conduct and “criminal mischief” with a hate-crime enhancement and faces up to one year in prison.
Garfield County Sheriff James D. Perkins said in a statement to NPR that his deputy had initially issued verbal warnings rather than written tickets before Ms. Gibson intervened.
“We are greatly disturbed by the hatred shown to law enforcement officers for no apparent reason,” he said in a written statement to NPR.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Ms. Gibson admitted that she had waved the “Back the Blue” sign at the deputy, stepped on it and tossed it into a trash can. She said she wanted to show solidarity with a friend who was the driver.
The American Civil Liberties Union was critical of the hate-crime charges, saying the law undermines free speech.
“This kind of charging decision sends an extremely chilling message to the community that the government will seek harsher punishment for people … who disagree with police actions,” the ACLU of Utah said.