A woman who was arrested last week after she stepped on a pro-police “Back the Blue” sign and threw it into a trash bin in front of an officer faces a hate crime charge under Utah law, records show.
NBC News obtained an affidavit and other court documents related to the case from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. Although the woman's name was redacted in the documents, she identified herself in a Daily Beast article as 19-year-old Lauren Gibson, a college student in California.
The incident occurred July 7 when Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Cree Carter pulled a driver over at a gas station for speeding in Panguitch, Utah, court records said.
Carter said he saw Gibson “stomping on a ‘Back the Blue’ sign next to where the traffic stop was conducted, crumble it up in a destructive manner and throw it into a trash can all while smirking in an intimidating manner towards me,” he wrote in the probable cause affidavit.
Carter then got out of his vehicle, the affidavit states, and asked Gibson where she got the sign. Gibson told the deputy it was her mother’s and she could do what she wanted with it.
Carter learned Gibson’s mother lived in California. He told her the sheriff’s office produced the signs, the affidavit said.
Carter then entered the gas station and asked employees if it was their sign. It wasn’t, the affidavit said. Gibson was arrested and the police sign was booked into evidence.
While being arrested, Gibson agreed to speak to Carter, who again asked her where she got the sign. She gave inconsistent statements and told the deputy she had found it on the ground, the probable cause report said.
Carter’s report states why Gibson faces a hate crime.
She attempted to “intimidate law enforcement while destroying a ‘Pro Law Enforcement’ sign the allegations are being treated as a ‘Hate Crime’ enhanced allegation,” Carter’s affidavit said.
Utah law defines a hate crime as an offense meant to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe an action would intimidate or terrorize. Another Utah law designates law enforcement officers as a protected class. Some other protected classes defined in the law protect individuals based on age, ethnicity, race, religion, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Gibson could not be reached on Wednesday for comment. It was unclear if she had retained an attorney. Requests for comments to the sheriff’s office and Garfield County Attorney’s Office went unreturned.
Court records show Gibson faces a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief with the hate crime enhancement and a charge of disorderly conduct. Additional Garfield County court records said Gibson’s bail was set at $600 last Thursday.
Gibson told The Daily Beast the deputy who pulled over her friend’s car was aggressive. The interaction between the deputy and driver upset her, Gibson said. That’s when she picked up the “Back the Blue” sign she and her friends had found on the side of a road. Gibson said she waved it at the deputy, stepped on it and threw it in the trash.
Gibson said her actions were meant to support her friend who was ticketed.
“I don’t feel like I did anything wrong,” she told The Daily Beast. “If it was a dentist’s sign or something and I just crushed a dentist sign … nothing would have happened.”
Utah’s ACLU criticized the decision to charge the defendant with a hate crime.
“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,” a statement read.
The ACLU’s statement also questioned whether the case is in the county’s best interest.
“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,” it said.