SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man is facing hate crime charges after prosecutors say he separately attacked two passersby with pepper spray near a public library in Salt Lake City, using a racial slur against an African American man and a homophobic slur against a gay man.
Chad Brandon Phyfer, 46, who is listed as homeless, was charged Thursday in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court with two counts of assault, a class A misdemeanor, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Phyfer, who is white, is accused of swinging at an African American man who passed by on a bike Feb. 21 near 376 E. 400 South in Salt Lake City.
When the cyclist yelled at him to watch what he was doing, Phyfer walked toward him and sprayed him with pepper spray, using a racial slur when he said, “Kill all ...,” according to charging documents.
Another man told police he was leaving the Salt Lake Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, also on Feb. 21, when he was sprayed in the face with pepper spray and called an anti-gay slur. The victim told police he is gay and that “people can just tell,” the charges state.
Phyfer was booked into Salt Lake County Jail on Feb. 21 and released the same day. His attorney Elizabeth Ferguson could not immediately be reached for comment.
In an interview with police, Phyfer told officers he used pepper spray on the African American man “to get him to leave him alone” and sprayed the second man in self-defense, the charges state.
He “further admitted to having sprayed a third male that day but would not elaborate.”
A hate crimes enhancement in Utah law boosts the charges from class B misdemeanors to class A misdemeanors, raising the potential penalty to a year in jail instead of just six months.
(Phyfer) further admitted to having sprayed a third male that day but would not elaborate.
The case follows a series of hate crime charges filed in Utah County this month against three men accused of assaulting a black missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Payson.
It also comes about a week after a federal jury in Salt Lake City found a Utah man guilty of attacking a family with a metal pipe at their Salt Lake City tire shop because they were Mexican. The tire shop case is credited with helping to pass a stronger Utah law on hate crimes last year, upping the penalty for offenses based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics.
The Thursday assault charges the first filed with the hate-crime enhancement in Salt Lake County since the 2019 law took effect, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
“This is what we predicted,” Gill said of the law. “It’s going to capture the full range of violence. People are going to come forward and be willing to report.”