PROVO — A Payson man has been ordered to serve at least three years of probation and inpatient substance abuse treatment for a hate crime attack on a Black Latter-day Saint missionary nearly a year ago.
Calling Sebastian West, 20, a “known, assaultive felon,” 4th District Judge James Brady said Tuesday that he won’t hesitate to send West to the Utah State Prison should he step out of line.
“If he does not comply with every requirement of probation, he will be serving time in prison,” Brady said.
Prosecutors have called West “the main aggressor” in the Jan. 28, 2019, attack, when he and several others punched, kicked and knocked the missionary to the icy ground. They called him the N-word and said, “This is our town,” and “Go back to slavery,” according to court documents.
The group began pummeling the missionary, who is Panamanian, as he tried to call police to report the threats they were making toward a homeowner.
“Your Honor, the facts and details of this case can only be described as shocking,” said Gregory Johnson, deputy Utah County attorney. He described how the group left the missionary unconscious and lying in the road on the cold, 19-degree day.
West pleaded no contest in October to a hate crime charge of aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.
His victim has chosen not to weigh in on the case publicly and didn’t appear to attend the Tuesday sentencing hearing held over video. Prosecutors have said he approved of the plea deal, however.
The judge said Tuesday he was refraining from ordering West to prison because, although West has served time behind bars from previous assaults, he hasn’t yet had a shot at probation. Brady noted West has served more than 200 days in jail since his arrest following the attack.
A no contest plea means a defendant isn’t fighting the charge but also isn’t admitting guilt.
Defense attorney Tom Means said his client wasn’t trying to avoid taking responsibility by entering that plea. Rather, it reflects that West did not plan to victimize anyone based on race or religion when he went to the Payson home that day, he said.
“Mr. West acted stupidly and criminally in confronting another person, and also ran into this victim. He did not have the intent to place him in fear of either his religious or racial constitutional rights,” Means said.
Police said the group threw the missionary’s phone across the street and began punching and kicking him before struggling with him on the ground and breaking his glasses. The young man was treated at a hospital for cuts and bruising on his face and injuries to one shoulder and ribs.
Wearing a black mask and a green shirt, West apologized Tuesday for the attack and for several other assault charges he picked up years earlier in the juvenile system.
“I know what I did was wrong,” West said. “I know that in my early years — and my early adult years — I didn’t make the best decisions. ... There’s no excuse for the decisions I made.”
His mother, Anne Marie Welch, noted her son had a difficult childhood. At the time of the attack, she said, he was going through a hard time and was under the influence of substances she didn’t disclose.
“As far as the profiling of being racist, my son is the farthest thing from that,” Welch said. “I want a better future for him and he wants that more than anything, and I am behind that 100%.”
The judge prohibited West from any contact with the victim and said he would consider increasing West’s time on probation from three years to four. Brady also suspended a prison term of up to five years, meaning it won’t take effect as long as West complies with conditions of his probation.
He suspended a second, consecutive prison sentence of one to 15 years for West’s earlier, unrelated conviction for aggravated assault, a second-degree felony. He and others punched and kicked a man in Payson Canyon on Dec. 16, 2019, prosecutors said, because they were upset about a conversation the victim had with a girl.
West’s brother Malachi West also pleaded guilty for his role in the January attack. He was sentenced in September to 60 days in the Utah County Jail for a conviction of assault, a class B misdemeanor.
The case against another man accused in the assault, Nathan Thomas, is still pending.