PAYSON — A black missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was assaulted in Payson recently, and police are investigating whether the incident rises to the level of a hate crime.
On Thursday, Sebastian Francis West, 19, of Payson, was arrested for investigation of assault and criminal mischief.
By Thursday evening, Malachi Bay West, 20, of Payson was arrested for investigation of the same crimes. It was not immediately known how the two men might be related. But according to court documents they live at the same residence.
Police say as many as six people may have participated in the attack, according to a police affidavit.
The incident happened on Jan. 28 near 300 North and 100 East in Payson, according to a police booking affidavit.
A man, who identified himself to police as a “black Panamanian,” was with his missionary companion to teach a family in the area, the affidavit states. Both were wearing nametags 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 victim told responding officers that these individuals were wearing dark hoodies and that some of them were wearing red bandanas covering their lower face,” the affidavit states.
“The victim reported that these individuals were yelling and cussing. The victim reported to officers that suspects began the altercation with him by yelling and swearing at him.”
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,” police wrote in the report.
One man then took the victim’s cellphone and threw it into the road, according to police.
“The victim said that when he walked over to retrieve his phone, the suspects followed him and continued yelling racial slurs and swearing at him. The victim said that one of the suspects also said he was going to slit his mother’s throat. He said that they were also mocking his religion because he was clearly identifiable as a missionary for his church by calling him a ‘church boy’ and telling him to leave their neighborhood,” the affidavit states.
One of the suspects was also wearing brass knuckles and acted as if he was going to hit the missionaries, according to police.
“The victim and his companion told officers that the suspects also encouraged each other while calling the victim racial slurs and swearing at him. The suspects did not at any point target the victim’s companion, who is Caucasian,” the affidavit states.
The group eventually moved in and attacked the missionary, “punching him in the head and face, kicking him in the torso, and shoving him to the ground.”
Police noted in their affidavit that “the suspects ‘intimidated’ and ‘terrorized’ the victim by surrounding him, calling him racial slurs and telling him to get out of their ‘hood’ and to go back to where he came from,” which fits the definition of a hate crime.
In a statement Thursday, Daniel Woodruff, a spokesman for the church, said, “We are concerned about what happened to two of our missionaries serving in Payson, Utah, in January and are grateful they escaped serious harm. Mission leaders have worked to provide them the care and support they need. We appreciate the efforts of law enforcement as they investigate this incident.”
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP TRI-State Conference of Utah, Idaho and Nevada, issued a statement Thursday evening expressing outrage over the attack.
“We are alarmed about the physical assault and destruction of personal property. 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,” Williams said.
She went on to emphasize the effort that went into passing a strengthened hate crime law in Utah last year. In April, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a hate crimes bill into law aimed at putting more teeth into penalties when victims are chosen because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
On Jan. 9, Sebastian West was charged in 4th District Court in connection with another violent assault.
In that case, Sebastian West and “at least two others jumped out of cars, came at the victim and began punching and kicking him in the head and body hard enough to knock several of the victim’s teeth loose,” according to charging documents.
That happened in December in Payson Canyon.
“The defendant and his companions slammed the victim’s head against the car, dragged him across the street and left him lying in the street in about 20-degree weather. The involved individuals were upset about a conversation the victim had with a girl,” the charges state.
Sebastian West and Wyatt Jake Smith, 18, of Payson were each charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, in that case.