Police arrested two men on Thursday for allegedly intimidating and assaulting a black Latter-day Saint missionary last month in Payson.
The missionary was allegedly attacked Jan. 28, when he and his companion, who is white, were in a neighborhood to teach a family. According to a probable cause statement, a group of about six people confronted the missionaries as they approached the house.
The missionary told police the group yelled curse words and called him the N-word. They told him to leave their “hood” and to go back where he came from, police wrote.
One of the alleged assailants grabbed the missionary’s phone and threw it into the street, damaging it. Another allegedly threatened to kill his mother.
Eventually, police wrote, the group began punching and kicking the missionary, shoving him to the ground and holding him there “so they could continue their assault.” He fought back and got free.
“The suspects did not at any point target the victim’s companion who is Caucasian,” according to the probable cause statement.
Police contend the attack met the definition of a hate crime in Utah because the suspects terrorized and intimidated the victim, causing him “to fear for his physical safety," and that the attack was done with the “intent to cause or has the effect of causing a person to reasonably fear to freely exercise or enjoy any right secured by the Constitution or laws of the state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
Police also said that the assault could be enhanced as a gang offense, too, since the alleged assailants acted “in concert” and two or more of them physically attacked the victim and damaged his phone.
A 19-year-old and 20-year-old were booked into jail on suspicion of criminal mischief, a third-degree felony, and assault, a class A misdemeanor.
The missionary and a witness picked the 20-year-old out of a photo lineup and identified him as one of the attackers, the statement said. The statement about the 19-year-old doesn’t indicate what role he allegedly had in the attack. Payson police didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally doesn’t identify people accused of crimes who haven’t been charged. It’s unclear if police have arrested any of the others in the group.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a statement that the church was concerned about what happened to the missionaries and grateful they are OK.
“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,” he said.