Is crumpling a pro-police sign in front of an officer a hate crime? This Utah county says yes

A 19-year-old woman was charged Friday with a hate crime accusing her of stomping on a pro-police sign and throwing it in the trash — all in front of an officer who had just given her friend a speeding ticket.

The woman was charged Friday in Garfield County’s 6th District Court with criminal mischief. The charge was filed with a hate crime enhancement, making it a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The woman was also charged with disorderly conduct, an infraction.

On Wednesday, a Garfield County sheriff’s deputy pulled over a car at a gas station in Panguitch for speeding. After the driver was issued a ticket and the traffic stop was completed, the deputy noticed several friends consoling the driver, according to a police booking affidavit.

“I observed one of the friends … stomping on a ‘Back the Blue’ sign next to where the traffic stop was conducted, crumple it up in a destructive manner and throw it into a trash can all while smirking in an intimidating manner towards me,” the deputy wrote in the affidavit.

That prompted the deputy to get back out of his patrol car and confront the woman. The deputy questioned the woman about where she got the sign.

“I stated to (the woman) that our sheriff’s office produced those specific signs and that I believed she had acquired it in our community,” the deputy wrote, adding that he checked with gas station employees who said the sign was not theirs. After reading her her Miranda rights, the deputy said the woman provided “inconsistent stories” and eventually said she had found it on the ground.

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“Due to (the woman) destroying property that did not belong to her in a manner to attempt to intimidate law enforcement, I placed her under arrest,” the deputy wrote, adding that she was taken and booked into jail. “Due to the demeanor displayed by (the woman) in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a pro law enforcement sign, the allegations are being treated as a hate crime enhanced allegation.”

The Garfield County Attorney's Office did not immediately return a request on Friday for comment.

According to the charging documents, the criminal mischief charge with a hate crime enhancement was filed because the woman damaged or destroyed the sign “with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that her action would intimidate or terrorize that person.”

The Utah hate crime statute for civil rights violations referred to in the charging documents says: “‘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.”

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