Garfield Co. sheriff defends decision to arrest woman for hate crime over stomping on ‘Back the Blue’ sign

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FILE – In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo, an unidentified man participates in a Blue Lives Matter rally in Kenosha, Wis. University of Wisconsin-Madison’s police chief has banned officers from using “Thin Blue Line” imagery while on duty. The move by Chief Kristen Roman follows criticism on social media of a “Thin Blue Line” flag displayed at the police department’s office. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

PANGUITCH, Utah (ABC4) – A Utah sheriff is defending a deputy’s decision to arrest a woman accused of stomping on a ‘Back the Blue’ for a hate crime.

A Garfield County Sheriff’s deputy says he was ending a traffic stop when friends approached to console the persons that had been pulled over in Panguitch.

One of those friends, later identified as 19-year-old Lauren Gibson, allegedly began stomping on a ‘Back the Blue’ sign in the area where the traffic stop was conducted. According to arresting documents, the woman crumbled the sign “in a destructive manner” before throwing it in a trash can, “all while smirking in an intimidating manner” toward the deputy.

Gibson was arrested and booked into jail on charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. According to arresting documents, “due to the demeanor displayed by Gibson in attempts to intimidate law enforcement while destroying a ‘Pro Law Enforcement’ sign the allegations are being treated as a ‘Hate Crime’ enhanced allegation.”

According to Utah state statute, ‘status as a law enforcement officer’ is considered a personal attribute in which a hate crime enhancement allegation can be added to a charge.

The ACLU of Utah released a statement in response to Gibson’s arrest, saying in part, “We are extremely troubled and disappointed by the recent decision of the Garfield County Attorney’s office to add a hate crime enhancement to charges against an individual alleged to have stomped on a “Back the Blue” sign and ‘crumble[d] it in a destructive manner’ because a police officer alleges that she was ‘smirking in an intimidating manner’ towards him. 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.”

On Wednesday, Sheriff James Perkins released a statement, saying Gibson “purposely targeted the officer in a very unpeaceful manner.”

Sheriff Perkins explains the deputy at first saw three vehicles speeding, which prompted the traffic stop. The officer told the drivers to slow down and did not issue a ticket. While he also “noticed tobacco products in a vehicle,” he again did not give a ticket, but advised those inside that they could not have those products in Utah based on their age.

“After the stop was completed, several of the occupants left the area,” Sheriff Perkins explains. “They soon returned with an alleged stolen Back the Blue sign and [Gibson] from California showed extremely aggressive and violent behavior toward the officer in a very busy parking lot.”

He continues, saying, “Gibson caused a public disturbance and purposely targeted the officer in a very unpeaceful manner.” According to Sheriff Perkins, the officer “is a veteran with an exemplary record” that served in active combat and “has never received a single complaint.”

“The simple fact is, while this officer was doing his duty in a proactive and compassionate manner, he was singled out and attacked by this person because he was a law enforcement officer. We are greatly disturbed by the hatred shown to law enforcement officers for no apparent reason. We are hopeful that this country can mend and heal from the division. Meanwhile, this case will go forward in a professional manner,” Sheriff Perkins concludes.

Gibson was booked into jail on charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, with the latter having the ‘Hate Crime’ enhanced allegation.

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