Christian Peacock was standing by the little gray mailbox at the end of his driveway, not wanting to say goodbye to his boyfriend for the night, when the car drove by the first time.
He heard the engine rev as someone from inside shouted slurs out window at the two of them. “F-----s,” the voice spat. “F--- you, f-----s.”
It was a shock to hear, Peacock said, on the quiet street in Sandy where he grew up, in a house surrounded by the magenta and pink rose bushes his mom manicures and the boat his dad keeps perfectly polished. It was nearly midnight last Friday, no one else was around, and it felt so random to him, almost unreal.
Then the car disappeared in the dark.
Peacock, who was days away from his 18th birthday, tried to brush it off — he’d heard those words before at his high school after he came out as gay — so he continued trying to get his boyfriend, Jacob Metcalf, to stay longer by talking about the episode of “Squid Game” they had just watched. About 45 minutes later, they were still outside, hugging by Metcalf’s gray sedan when the car drove by again. This time, it stopped.
Two young men they didn’t know got out.
“We don’t like seeing gay people on our street,” one said, according to what Peacock and Metcalf recall, and walked toward them. Metcalf remembers the individual taking off his shirt and trying to taunt the couple. “Do we turn you on?” he asked, flexing his chest.
Three others in the car laughed as they filmed their friend outside. The young man then walked up and pushed Metcalf in the shoulder, Metcalf recounted.
Peacock said he jumped in front of his boyfriend and told the young man not to touch him. “Just get out of here,” Peacock said. “You’re repressed. That’s why you’re acting this way,” Peacock said he shouted at him. “You’re probably also gay and acting out because of it.”
That’s when the young man turned to Peacock and punched him on the left side of his head so hard that he’s still got teeth marks indented inside his cheek from the impact. They’re outlined in dried blood.
The hit gave him a concussion and some brain swelling, which he got checked out at the emergency room. Peacock doesn’t remember much else; everything in front of him went black, he said.
The assault happened Saturday about 12:15 a.m. And Sandy police say they’ve taken the alleged perpetrator, a 17-year-old, into custody. And they’ve referred charges to juvenile court for review.
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not name minors involved in crimes. He hasn’t been charged, but he faces a possible class A misdemeanor for simple assault, enhanced by a hate crime allegation.
If charged, the case could become a test of the state’s new hate crime law, which hasn’t been used extensively since it was put in place in 2019 after a Latino father and son were attacked at their tire shop.
“We want people to know that there’s no room for this in Sandy,” said police Sgt. Greg Moffitt. “If you attack somebody, based on solely existing for who they are as a human, we’re going to pursue that as the hate crime that it is.”
The case has since drawn national attention for the seemingly out-of-the-blue, homophobic attack in the middle of a Utah suburb.
How a sister tracked down the alleged perpetrator
For the first time since the assault, Peacock and Metcalf talked to media outlets Tuesday about what happened. The person to credit for tracking down the alleged perpetrator, they said, was Peacock’s sister. “She’s a bad---,” Peacock said.
Jocelynn Peacock, 19, had heard yelling from inside the home and ran out to see what was happening, they said.
Metcalf had pulled his boyfriend back after the punch, setting him down on the ground, where he sat in shock. Metcalf then pulled out his phone and tried to record the men in and outside the car.
The second young man who had gotten out with the boy who allegedly punched Peacock stood in front of the license plate on the back of the car, blocking Metcalf from getting video of it.
In his shaky footage, which has been shared thousands of times on social media, Metcalf can be heard yelling: “Get out of here. Get the f--- out of here … What the f--- is wrong with you people? You’re are f---ing disgusting.”
He said he was scared but trying to act assertive. “There were five people there against just me and my boyfriend,” he recounted.
The man who punched Peacock continued to repeat the slur.
Meanwhile, Jocelynn Peacock grabbed her phone and started taking pictures of the alleged assailant and the others in the car. She also chased the car down the street and captured the license plate number. She then shared both on her Instagram and Snapchat pages.
One of her friends recognized the car and knew the person who drove it and gave Jocelynn the kid’s address. Jocelynn went there and spoke to the mother of that boy.
“Do you know what your son has done?” she asked, according to Peacock and Metcalf, who went with her.
The mother denied her son threw the punch. But she agreed to give Jocelynn’s phone number to the mother of boy who allegedly did, and she ended up calling Jocelynn.
Jocelynn invited that family to their house later Saturday afternoon to talk about what had happened. But she called police first and had officers waiting around the corner.
Christian Peacock remembers standing 6 feet away from the alleged perpetrator before the officers came out and arrested him. The boy, he said, didn’t say a word to him.
Moffitt with Sandy Police credits the family, especially the sister and her social media, with tracking down the suspect. “That family was just awesome in this,” the sergeant said.
Police originally hit a dead end when they called the owner of the car, who they now believe lied and said he sold the car two months ago to someone else.
Christian Peacock said he and his sister are close, graduating from Hillcrest High together last year. Peacock graduated a year early, so they were able to walk across the stage together.
He texts her just as much — maybe more — as Metcalf.
Previous experiences with homophobia
Peacock turned 18 on Sunday, two days after the assault, and spent the early hours of his birthday in the ER. (He did later celebrate with a steak dinner.)
After he was punched, Peacock said his head was pounding. He could feel a pulse in his skull. And pain radiated from the base to the front.
A CT scan showed his brain had been swelling since the punch, according to medical records provided by the family, and he had a minor concussion. Doctors advised the family to watch for any worsening symptoms, which could indicate a brain bleed.
It has been affecting his memory, Peacock said. He paused a few times Tuesday, as he tried to recall the events of that night.
Peacock said Metcalf asked him to be his boyfriend on May 4 — a day he jokes he won’t forget, even with a head injury. On their first official date as a couple, they went bowling and then ate at an Italian restaurant.
Metcalf said he hasn’t experienced much homophobia before. He came out as gay at age 18.
Peacock said he’s had a different experience. He came out as gay at age 14, during his sophomore year at Hillcrest High.
He lost a lot of friends, he said, who said they were no longer comfortable around him. He joined the cross country team at the school, as a way to get involved again after that. But any time he ran alone around the school, he said, people would yell “f-----” at him from their cars.
Peacock said he wanted to fight that and so became president of the gay-straight alliance at Hillcrest.
This fall, he and Metcalf will be attending the University of Utah together (Peacock already started in the spring). Peacock wants to be a biological researcher or dermatologist. Metcalf recently bought him some slides that the two look at under Peacock’s microscope at his home.
“It’s nerdy,” Peacock laughed. “I know.”
The attack, Peacock said, “made me take a step back and realize this happens to a lot of people in our community, the LGBTQ community. And we need to talk about it more.”
While he spoke, he twirled a bracelet on his wrist from his dad. On a silver rectangle it says, “Remember I love you.” His mom gave him a similar necklace; and she’s been posting about his experience every day on Facebook, encouraging people to be kind and teach their children tolerance.
Will Utah’s hate crime law be tested?
If the juvenile is charged with a hate crime enhancement, it will be among the first cases using the new law in the state.
Utah’s weak hate crime law drew national attention in 2018 after a father and son were brutally beaten outside their Salt Lake City tire shop by a man yelling, “I hate Mexicans.”
At the time, the county district attorney declined to prosecute it as a hate crime, saying the statute lacked the teeth for him to be able to do so. As it stood, the law on the books had never resulted in a conviction.
Shortly before that, too, a mob chased a group of LGBTQ people after the Utah Pride Festival in summer 2018, while yelling homophobic chants and slurs. They sought refuge in a dessert shop in downtown Salt Lake City.
And a case similar to what happened with Peacock and Metcalf occurred in Utah in 2015. Then, two gay men were attacked after exchanging a goodnight hug in Salt Lake City. Their assailants appeared out of the darkness, calling them “f------,” according to one of the victims.
No charges were ever filed in that case. And hate crime enhancements weren’t added, either, to an assault where a man hit another man outside a Salt Lake City bar in 2019 after asking him if he was gay and hearing him answer, “I am.”
But in 2019 and spurred by those cases, state lawmakers passed a long-awaited measure to strengthen the law. Now, any criminal charges in Utah can be enhanced as a hate crime if the crime appears to be motivated by someone targeting another person’s ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.
A class B misdemeanor for simple assault, like in Peacock’s case, is raised one offense level higher, so to a class A misdemeanor, for example. A second-degree felony would become a first-degree felony.
This could be the first high-profile test of the changed law. And Peacock said he’s glad to see it.
He wants to feel safe, he said, standing in his driveway, saying goodbye to his boyfriend, however long it takes them.