PROVO — One of three men charged in an alleged hate-crime attack on a black Latter-day Saint missionary in Payson earlier this year was released from jail in error.
Fourth District Judge James Brady denied bail for Sebastian Francis West, 19, in March. But the Utah County Jail did not receive that information, so West was allowed to post $2,500 bail the following day, a prosecutor said in an audio recording of a hearing in the case earlier this month.
Brady issued a $25,000 warrant for West’s arrest after he failed to appear for hearings on May 5 and May 12, court records show.
“I am surprised that he was released from custody. Apparently a communication error is what was creating that,” Brady is heard saying in the May 5 recording.
Deputy Utah County attorney Gregory Johnson told the judge he learned a day earlier that West was not in custody and spoke with the Utah County Jail to investigate what had happened.
“The state’s concerns are that Mr. West is a violent individual and he should not be out on bail,” Johnson told KSL on Tuesday. “I don’t know where that breakdown occurred.”
Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon said West had posted bail in February while jailed on the hate-crime charge.
He was arrested again later that month after he failed to appear for a hearing in a prior domestic violence case, court records show. West was being held for that violation — not for the missionary attack — at the time of his release in March, Cannon said.
“Are we perfect? No. But do mistakes happen where we are given information and we don’t take note of it properly? I suppose it’s happened, but it’s extremely rare,” Cannon said. “If there was a mistake made, we all want to know so we can avoid making mistakes like that.”
The state’s concerns are that Mr. West is a violent individual and he should not be out on bail. I don’t know where that breakdown occurred.
–Deputy Utah County attorney Gregory Johnson
The judge had also ordered a competency evaluation at the request of West’s defense attorney. But West did not meet with the evaluator, court records show.
Tom Means, his defense attorney, wrote in a March court filing that he suspects West may not be competent, meaning he does not have a rational understanding of the case or how to work with his attorneys. Means did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Prosecutors allege that West, his brother, Malachi Bay West, 21, and another man, Nathan Thomas, 20, of Nephi, attacked the missionary outside a home in Payson on Jan. 28. They are each charged in 4th District Court with assault, a third-degree felony.
The missionary, who is from Panama, went to a home in Payson with his companion to teach when they came across a group of six to seven men wearing hoodies and bandanas over their faces and threatening one of the residents in the front yard, charging documents say.
The missionary urged the men to leave and tried to call 911, but they took his phone and threw it, then called him the N-word and punched and kicked him in the head, saying “This is our town,” and “Go back to slavery” charges state.
The men did not target the black missionary’s white companion, police said.
Malachi West is scheduled to return to court in Provo for a hearing June 9. Thomas is due in court for arraignment June 16.