The woman was identified as Lauren Gibson, a Californian college student who was heading back home with a group of friends last week from a camping trip in Panguitch, Utah.
According to the affidavit of probable cause obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, a Garfield County police officer pulled over one of the cars in Gibson’s group to issue a speeding ticket. He noticed that some people tried to console the driver as he issued the speeding ticket. One of them then stomped on a “Back the Blue” sign, crumbled it up in a “destructive manner” and threw it into a trash can “all while smirking in an intimidating manner towards [the officer].”
According to the affidavit, the officer approached the young woman and asked where she had gotten the sign. She stated it was her mother’s. The officer told the woman that to his knowledge, those specific signs were from the local sheriff’s office. After reading her Miranda rights, the woman allegedly gave “inconsistent stories” before saying that she had found it on the ground.
“Due to [Gibson] destroying property that did not belong to her in a manner to attempt to intimidate law enforcement, I placed her under arrest,” the affidavit reads.
The Garfield County prosecutors have also charged her with a hate crime, which enhances her criminal mischief charge to a class A misdemeanor.
The Utah Criminal Code states that if a person commits an offense “with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that his action would intimidate or terrorize that person,” then the offense would be enhanced—in this case, a class B misdemeanor offense becomes a class A misdemeanor.
“‘Intimidate or terrorize’ means an act which causes the person to fear for his physical safety or damages the property of that person or another. The act must be accompanied with the intent to cause or has the effect of causing a person to reasonably fear to freely exercise or enjoy any right secured by the Constitution or laws of the state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States,” the code explains.
The affidavit claimed the incident involves a “hate crime enhanced allegation” due to “the demeanor displayed by [Gibson] in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a ‘Pro Law Enforcement’ sign.”
In April 2019, the hate crime legislation “Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements” was signed into law in Utah. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said at the time that the hate crime law would “protect us all” and does “not police or punish speech or thought.”
The law states that “status as a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, special function officer, or any other peace officer” is a protected “personal attribute” as much as race, sex, religion, ethnicity, and disability.
Gibson was bailed out of jail after spending a night on July 7. She faces up to a year in prison or a fine of up to $2,500.
“I just wanted to, I don’t know, make her feel better or [do] something or stand up for her,” Gibson told the Daily Beast of her friend who received the speeding ticket. “I don’t feel like I did anything wrong.”
“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 said. “It’s the same thing. It’s just an occupation.”
Advocacy group ACLU of Utah said they are “extremely troubled and disappointed” with the decision of the Garfield County Attorney’s office to add a hate crime enhancement to Gibson’s charge.
“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,” ACLU of Utah said in a statement on Monday. “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 Epoch Times has reached the Garfield County Attorney’s office for comment.
This is not the first time the Garfield County sheriff’s office has made such an arrest.
Last August, Joseph Dawson, 32, was arrested by a Garfield County policeman for pulling down a similar “Back the Blue” sign and replacing the word “blue” with “bisexual” using spray paint.
He was later found guilty and sentenced to two days in jail and a year of probation, the Daily Beast reported.