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Banjo pauses Utah contracts as AG Reyes launches audit for racial/religious bias following revelations of founder’s white supremacist background

SHARE Banjo pauses Utah contracts as AG Reyes launches audit for racial/religious bias following revelations of founder’s white supremacist background

Damien Patton, Banjo founder and CEO, poses for a portrait at the company’s office in South Jordan on Monday, March 9, 2020.

Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Following revelations that company founder and CEO Damien Patton had ties as a teenager to white supremacist groups and was convicted of charges related to a drive-by shooting of a Jewish synagogue in 1990, self-described “event detection” company Banjo announced via a web posting Wednesday evening that it is suspending all operations in Utah.

Court records and federal hate crime investigation documents detailing Patton’s association with a Ku Klux Klan faction and his involvement in violent actions directed at a religious group were first reported by online forum Medium’s technology news outlet OneZero on Tuesday. After becoming aware of the reporting, the facts of which Patton is not contesting, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office announced suspension of the state’s $21 million contract with the company and called for further review.

Under a state preferred provider program, dozens of Utah municipal agencies and other state entities have also entered into agreements with Banjo since the principal state contract was signed last summer.

Per Banjo’s statement, the company is ceasing all operations in Utah pending completion of an audit.

“Following yesterday’s announcement by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Banjo has decided to suspend all Utah contracts by not ingesting any government data or providing any services to government entities until an independent, third-party audit has been contracted and completed,” the posting read.

“The audit will have direct oversight by the state and will look to ensure there’s no bias in the technology, that Banjo is not a surveillance company and that all data for the state is being handled per the contract.”

A representative of Reyes’ office said Wednesday that an audit already planned for the company was being moved up and an appropriate, third-party contractor was being sought to conduct the assessment. That review will not only include evaluations of personal privacy protections stipulated in the state’s contract with Banjo, but will also be looking for any evidence of racial or religious bias in work already performed by the company.

At 17 years old, Patton was involved with a faction of the Ku Klux Klan and participated in a drive-by shooting of a Nashville synagogue on June 9, 1990. According to court records, Patton was driving the vehicle on that day as a Klan leader shot out windows of the synagogue with a semi-automatic weapon. No one was injured in the incident, but the gunfire was directed at a building not far from where the congregation’s rabbi was at the time.

While two Klansmen were later convicted of crimes related to the incident, Patton, according to OneZero, pleaded guilty to acts of juvenile delinquency in connection with the incident. Patton also testified at the trial about his beliefs, at the time.

“We believe that the blacks and the Jews are taking over America, and it’s our job to take America back for the white race,” Patton testified.

In a statement shared with the Deseret News, Patton expressed remorse for his actions earlier in life and asserted his involvement with hate groups and the violent acts he participated in were not a reflection of the person he has become.

“Thirty-two years ago I was a lost, scared and vulnerable child,” Patton said. “I won’t go into detail, but the reasons I left home at such a young age are unfortunately not unique; I suffered abuse in every form.

“I did terrible things and said despicable and hateful things, including to my own Jewish mother, that today I find indefensibly wrong, and feel extreme remorse for. I have spent most of my adult lifetime working to make amends for this shameful period in my life.”

Reyes’ office, the principal signatory on the contract with Banjo, responded swiftly to the news of Patton’s history.

Reyes’ spokesman, Rich Piatt, said the attorney general was “shocked” by the news and made the move to suspend use of Banjo’s services.

“The Utah Attorney General’s office is shocked and dismayed at reports that Banjo’s founder had any affiliation with any hate group or groups in his youth,” Piatt said in a statement, adding that no one in the attorney general’s office was aware of those affiliations or actions. “They are indefensible. He has said so himself.“