A Payson man accused of assaulting a Black missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a hate crime plead guilty to a lesser charge on Tuesday.
Malachi West, 21, plead guilty to assault, a class B misdemeanor, in Provo's 4th District Court as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. He was originally charged with felony assault in the third-degree.
Court documents state on Jan. 28, a group of "roughly six individuals approached a pair of missionaries, both of whom were wearing their uniforms consisting of white shirts with black name tags bearing the name of their church."
One of the missionaries was white while the other, the victim, describes himself as a "Black Panamanian," police reported. The pair were headed to a home near 300 North and 100 East in Payson to visit with and teach a family about their church.
That's when the missionaries encountered the group of six who were wearing dark hoodies. Some had red bandannas covering the lower halves of their faces. One of the suspects had a pair of brass knuckles, each with sharp spikes on the ends, on each hand. The probable cause statement stated:
The victim told officers that the suspect wearing the brass knuckles formed fists with his hands and presented his fists and brass knuckles toward the victim in a fighting or boxing like stance. The victim told officers that this particular suspect acted as if he was going to lunge at or strike him with the brass knuckles. The victim told officers that he felt intimidated and believed that the suspect was going to try to physically strike him with the brass knuckles.
Police say the group started yelling obscenities at the Black missionary, repeatedly calling him a "n-----" and telling him to get out of their "hood" and go back to where he came from. One of the suspects then grabbed the victim's phone and threw it into the street, cracking the device.
When the victim went to get his phone, one suspect said he was going to "slit his mother's throat." They also mocked him by calling him a "church boy," the PC statement states.
Police say at no time did the suspects target the victim's white companion. It's unclear what the victim's companion was doing during the assault.
The PC statement continues to detail the assault:
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. 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. The victim fought back, shoving the suspects off of him while trying to free himself from their hold. The victim was eventually able to free himself and the suspects fled the area. During the assault, the victim reported that his prescription glasses valued at $1,000 were broken.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement that it was concerned about the attack and appreciated the efforts or law enforcement in investigating it:
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.
Court documents state West admitted to police that he participated in the assault. He was arrested and booked into the Utah County Jail in February and his bail was set at $5,000.
After taking the plea deal on Tuesday, West faces up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 29.
West's brother Sebastian, 19, was also arrested on Feb. 13. He, like his sibling, faced enhanced charges due to Utah's new hate crime law. The brothers were each charged with third-degree felony assault with a hate crime enhancement. Sebastian West will appear in court on Sept. 22 for an arraignment, according to court records.
Two other people were also detained in connection with the attack, according to Utah County authorities. They were both juveniles and have not been publicly identified.
Nathan Thomas was arrested on allegations of threatening, yelling racial slurs at and attacking the missionary. A judge recently issued a warrant for Thomas' arrest after he failed to appear in court.
Individuals charged in complaints are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.