UPDATE (Feb. 13, 2020; 10:05 p.m.) — A second suspect, Malachi Bay West, was arrested in connection with the attack described below.
(KUTV ) — A Payson man is in custody, accused of assaulting a black missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints specifically because he is black, police said in a probable cause statement.
According to the statement, on Jan. 28, a group of "roughly six individuals, including 19-year-old Sebastian Francis West, 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 is white while the other, the victim, describes himself as a "black Panamanian." 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 gang 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 PC statement says:
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.
So far, police have only arrested West for his alleged role in the assault. He is facing an assault charge and a felony criminal mischief charge. Both are gang-enhanced and both are considered hate crimes.
Police located Sebastian West Thursday in the same area where the attack happened. Police are still looking for five to six other suspects.
West is cooperating with police, admitting he was involved in the assault, but says it was all in self-defense.
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.
Tri-state NAACP President Jeanetta Williams said the organization was "outraged" over the attack, and that it was working with authorities to have all six individuals charged, not just West. Further, Williams said the organization would work to make sure charges for all involved would bear the hate crime enhancement.
Here is the full statement from Williams on behalf of the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada, and Utah:
The NAACP is outraged over the hate crime that occurred in Payson, Idaho between six individuals that targeted a Black Panamanian Missionary because of the color of his skin. We are alarmed about the physical assault and destruction of personal property. The NAACP is actively working with authorities to have all six individuals and not just one individual charged. In addition, we will work toward having all six individuals charged with a hate crime.
So far, police have only arrested Sebastian West for his alleged role in the assault. He is facing an assault charge and a felony criminal mischief charge. Both are gang-enhanced and both are considered hate crimes.
We worked very hard to help pass the hate crimes bill in 2019.
Utah’s Hate Crime Bill: The bill would allow a judge to increase penalties for a crime if a defendant is convicted of targeting someone based on ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation. A person must first be convicted of a crime before additional penalties would apply.