PAYSON, Utah — Police officers in Payson are investigating whether the assault of a black missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a hate crime.
Officers arrested 19-year-old Sebastian Francis West for investigation of assault and criminal mischief. They also report arresting 20-year-old Malachi Bay West for investigation of the same crimes.
It’s not immediately known if the two men are related, but court documents indicate they live at the same residence.
Although they’ve only arrested two, police believe as many as six people may have been involved in the attack.
According to the police booking affidavit, the incident happened on Jan. 28 near 300 North and 100 East in Payson.
A man identifying himself to police as a “black Panamanian” was with his missionary companion. Both were wearing name tags identifying themselves as Latter-day Saint missionaries.
“As he and his companion walked toward the house of the family they were going to teach, they encountered roughly six individuals,” the affidavit states. “The victim told responding officers that these individuals were wearing dark hoodies. Some of them were wearing red bandanas covering their lower face.”
The victim reported that these individuals were yelling and cussing. The victim reported to officers the suspects began the altercation with him by yelling and swearing at him. – Police affidavit
According to police, the group repeatedly called the missionary a racial slur and “told him to get out of their ‘hood’ and go back to where he came from.” They say one man then took the victim’s cellphone and threw it in the road.
The victim also told officers that one of the suspects had a pair of brass knuckles on each hand.
The suspects allegedly attacked the victim by punching him in the head and face, kicking him in the torso and shoving him to the ground. According to the probable cause statement, the suspects held his waist and legs to keep him from getting up.
Officers noted the suspects never targeted the victim’s white companion at any time during the altercation.
One of the suspects, Sebastian West, is fresh off a separate violent assault charge. On Jan. 9, he was charged in 4th District Court for an assault that happened in December in Payson Canyon.
“We are concerned about what happened to two of our missionaries serving in Payson, Utah, in January and are grateful they escaped serious harm,” said Daniel Woodruff, a spokesman for the church, in a statement.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP TRI-State Conference of Utah, Idaho and Nevada, also issued a statement. She said, “The NAACP is actively working with authorities to have all six individuals and not just one individual charged. In addition, we will work toward having all six individuals charged with a hate crime.”
Governor Gary Herbert signed a hate crime bill into law in April. The measure aims to strengthen penalties when suspects choose victims based on race, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
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