PANGUITCH, Utah (ABC4) – A woman in Southern Utah has been arrested for allegedly stomping on a ‘Back the Blue’ sign.
A Garfield County Sheriff’s deputy says they were conducting a traffic stop at a gas station in Panguitch when “some of the individual’s friends [approached] them and [attempted] to console them.”
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.
When asked where the sign had been found, Gibson allegedly told “inconsistent stories.”
The deputy reports the sign Gibson damaged was produced by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
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.
On Monday, the ACLU of Utah released a statement in response to Gibson’s arrest. You can read the full statement below:
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. This concern is even greater because we do not view the enhancement as supportable under the language of the statute. We consistently warn that enhancements are oftentimes used to single out unpopular groups or messages rather than provide protections for marginalized communities. This case has confirmed those warnings.
Finally, this case is a reminder that we believe that prosecutors should exercise their discretion about whether to bring any criminal charges at all with an eye toward what kinds of incidents are truly worth using government resources to pursue. 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.
Since Gibson’s arrest, Garfield County Sheriff James Perkins has defended the decision, saying Gibson “purposely targeted the officer in a very unpeaceful manner.” Utah Governor Spencer Cox also responded to the arrest, saying that while he is not aware of Gibson’s specific case, he “[dislikes] hate wherever it is.”