A 19-year-old girl who allegedly smirked at a sheriff’s deputy "in an intimidating manner" as she crumpled and stomped on a Back the Blue sign has been charged with a hate crime.
Lauren Gibson handled the sign in a "destructive manner" and threw it in the trash after her friend was pulled over during a routine traffic stop at a Utah gas station, according to court documents first reported by The Washington Post.
Ms Gibson faces a maximum one-year sentence on the charge of criminal mischief with a hate-crime enhancement for allegedly intending to "intimidate or terrorize" someone in violation of the state’s hate-crime law, the Post reported.
“Due to the demeanour displayed by Gibson in attempts to intimate law enforcement while destroying a ‘Pro Law Enforcement’ sign the allegations are being treated as a ‘Hate Crime’ enhanced allegation,” Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Cree Carter wrote in an affidavit
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Ms Gibson said she waved the sign at the officer, stepped on it, and threw it in the trash.
At the risk of creating potential evidence for a subsequent trial if prosecuted, Ms Gibson told the outlet she did it due to her anger at the aggressive treatment of her friend, who was given a speeding ticket during the traffic stop.
“I just wanted to, I don’t know, make her feel better or something or stand up for her,” Ms Gibson told The Daily Beast.
Neither the Garfield County attorney’s office nor the Sheriff’s office responded to the Post or Beast’s request for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said in a statement it was "troubled" and "disappointed" with a charge they say isn’t supported by the statute.
“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,” the statement said.
"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."
The last person in Utah charged over a similar incident, Joseph Dawson, 32, spent two days in jail and a year on probation for pulling down a Back the Blue sign, according to an affidavit obtained by the Beast.
Ms Gibson, who hasn’t filed a plea, says it’s a case the sheriff made her aware of when she spent one night in jail following her arrest.
“He told me, ‘Do you want to know what happened to the last person that got arrested for this?... He was kind of threatening me in that way,” she told the outlet.
“I don’t feel like I did anything wrong,” she added.