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Payson Police Investigating Possible Hate Crime Against Black Missionary

PAYSON, Utah — Two men were arrested in connection with an assault on a black missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as police investigated whether the attack amounted to a hate crime.

Malachi Bay West, 20, and Sebastian Francis West, 19, were arrested on suspicion of assault and criminal mischief.

According to probable cause statements, police identified the men as part of a group of as many as six people accused of attacking the missionary on Jan. 28 near 300 North and 100 East.

“The victim reported to officers that suspects began the altercation with him by yelling and swearing at him,” police wrote.

The victim, who police identified as a black male from Panama, told officers he and his companion were walking to teach a family in the area when they encountered a group of six individuals.

The suspects were wearing dark hoodies and some were wearing red bandanas to cover the lower half of their faces, according to court documents.

Police said members of the group began yelling and swearing at the victim, repeatedly using racial slurs and telling him “to get out of their ‘hood.'”

The victim also reported the group threatened to kill his mother and mocked his religion, calling him a “church boy.”

According to court documents, one suspect was wearing brass knuckles with spikes on the ends and approached the victim, who began to back away, believing the suspect was going to strike him.

Police stated that one of the suspects grabbed the missionary’s phone and threw it down on the road, damaging it, and then followed him as he retrieved the device, yelling racial slurs and swearing at him.

“The suspects then acted in concert as they attacked the victim, punching him in the head and face, kicking him in the torso, and shoving him to the ground,” police wrote. “While the victim was on the ground, the suspects held onto his legs and waist in an attempt to keep him on the ground so they could continue their assault.”

Eventually, officers wrote, the missionary was able to free himself and the suspects ran.

Police said the missionary gave descriptions that helped police generate possible suspects.

Authorities said the victim’s companion, who was a white male, was never targeted during the incident.

According to detectives, Sebastian West admitted during an interview about an unrelated incident that he took part in the assault but claimed it was in self-defense.

Malachi West was identified in a photo lineup by the victim and a witness, police said.

According to court records, Malachi West had prior convictions for interference with an arresting officer, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct after request to stop.

Records showed this was the fourth time since September that Sebastian West had been accused in an assault.

Charging documents stated that on Dec. 16 in Payson Canyon, West and at least two others punched and kicked a man “hard enough to knock several of the victim’s teeth loose.”

“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,” prosecutors wrote. “The involved individuals were upset about a conversation the victim had with a girl.”

Late Thursday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement on the alleged assault.

“We are concerned about what happened to two of our missionaries serving in Payson, Utah, in January and are grateful they escaped serious harm,” Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff stated. “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.”

The regional branch of the NAACP also waded into the case, labeling the attack as a hate crime and saying that the group was working to have all involved in the assault charged.

“The NAACP is outraged over the hate crime that occurred in Payson, (Utah) between six individuals that targeted a Black Panamanian Missionary because of the color of his skin,” stated Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada & Utah. “We are alarmed about the physical assault and destruction of personal property.”

Last year, Gov. Gary Herbert signed new hate crimes legislation with enhanced penalties for attacks based on attributes such as someone’s religion, race, or sexual orientation.

The law also raises the conviction level of any crime deemed a hate crime by one, meaning second-degree convictions become first-degree convictions, and so on.

Prosecutors said the state’s previous hate-crimes law didn’t protect specific groups and was unenforceable.