A 19-year-old has been charged with a hate crime after a sheriff's deputy said she tried to intimidate him, bringing a debate about including law enforcement as a protected class in Utah. A Garfield County sheriff's deputy wrote that after he pulled over several speeding vehicles, one of the passengers stomped on a "Back the Blue" sign while "smirking in an intimidating manner" at him, NPR reports. The "intimidating" part makes it a hate crime, the deputy said; Utah law allows conviction on a hate crime charge if the offense was committed "with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person." Court documents say Deputy Cree Carter then stepped out of his vehicle and asked Lauren Gibson where she got the sign; she said it was her mother's. The deputy told Gibson the sheriff's department made the signs, the filing says, per NBC.
The ACLU said the case confirms its fears about hate crime laws covering police. Such laws "are oftentimes used to single out unpopular groups or messages rather than provide protections for marginalized communities," the Utah ACLU said in a statement. The enhancement kicks the charges up to a higher misdemeanor, meaning that Gibson could go to jail if convicted. The ACLU questioned the wisdom of that. "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 chapter said. The sheriff defended the charge, saying, "We are greatly disturbed by the hatred shown to law enforcement officers for no apparent reason." Gov. Spencer Cox said he wasn't up to speed on the case but in general opposes defacing "Back the Blue" signs—or "Black Lives Matter" signs. "Just stop doing stupid stuff," Cox said, per the Deseret News. (Read more hate crimes stories.)