PAYSON — Payson police on Friday said they will request that the recent attack of a black Latter-day Saint missionary be prosecuted as a hate crime.
On Thursday, brothers Sebastian Francis West, 19, and Malachi Bay West, 20, both of Payson, were arrested for investigation of assault and criminal mischief.
Police said they were looking Friday for two to three more people to question in connection with the Jan. 28 incident that happened near 300 North and 100 East in Payson.
On that day, a missionary who identified himself to police as a “black Panamanian” was with his companion to teach a family in the area. The missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were wearing nametags clearly identifying themselves as missionaries, according to police.
The group was harassed by the two West brothers and three to four others who used “derogatory, racist slurs” toward the black missionary before pushing him to the ground, according to a statement from Payson police.
Paramedics were called to the scene to check out the missionary, who was not transported to the hospital, police said.
A police affidavit says the group “‘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.
The group eventually moved in, the affidavit states, and attacked the missionary, “punching him in the head and face, kicking him in the torso, and shoving him to the ground.”
Based on descriptions of the men given by the missionaries and by researching the criminal histories of people in the area, detectives were able to come up with people of interest to question.
Sebastian West was questioned and admitted his participation in the assault, but claimed it was in self-defense, according to a statement from police.
He was charged in 4th District Court in connection with a separate violent assault on Jan. 9 in Payson Canyon.
In that case, Sebastian West and at least two others slammed a man's head against a car, punched and kicked him in the head, resulting in several of the victim’s teeth being knocked loose, according to charging documents.
Sebastian West and Wyatt Jake Smith, 18, of Payson were each charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony, in that case.
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.”
On the Payson Police Department’s Facebook page, many Payson residents expressed concern and anger over what happened.
“It is beyond frustrating that this missionary was verbally and physically assaulted in our neighborhood,” one man wrote.
“Too close to home and not tolerated by me or my loved ones by any means. I hope he and his ‘buddies’ get the full penalty for what they did!!! Hope the young missionary is doing well and isn’t scared to serve the people that need to hear his word,” one woman posted.
“This makes me sick and angry. I am a mom of a missionary and I worried about my son all the time that things like this may happens to him. I am so thankful this young man is okay. I hope they will find all that was involved and do something about it,” another posted.
“I know both of the missionaries because they spend alot of time teaching my friends 10 year old daughter in the front room. They are both really good kids and very respectful. Hopefully these guys learn there lesson sitting in jail,” another man wrote.
Another woman encouraged authorities to pursue hate crime charges. “This is disgusting! Should not be tolerated!! Prosecute as a hate crime! Both as a racist attack and targeting for religion!! Find the other attackers and get these abhorrent hoodlums off the street! This missionary is a very nice guy from what I’ve heard. I’m just sick over this,” she wrote.
In April, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a hate crimes bill into law aimed at putting more teeth into state penalties when victims are targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
Payson police on Friday said it will be up to the Utah County Attorney’s Office to determine whether any potential charges could be filed under the hate crimes statute.
The county attorney's office did not immediately respond to the Deseret News request for comment.