LDS Church releases statement after second arrest in group attack on black missionary in Payson; assault followed racial slurs

Sebastian Lane West and Malachai Bay West. Photos: Utah County

PAYSON, Utah, Feb. 14, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has released a statement following the arrest of a second suspect in the Jan. 28 group attack on a black LDS missionary in Payson.

“We are concerned about what happened to two of our missionaries serving in Payson, Utah, in January and are grateful they escaped serious harm,” says a statement released by spokesman Daniel Woodruff. “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.”

Probable cause statements in the case made no mention of the black missionary’s white companion suffering physical injuries, and said the white missionary was not targeted. The victim attacked identified himself to police as a black Panamanian.

Malachai Bay West, 20, was booked into the Utah County Jail at 6:50 p.m. Thursday. Eight hours earlier, at 10:53 a.m. Thursday, Sebastian Francis West, 19, was booked into the same jail.

Both West men, who live at the same address in Payson, face initial charges of on initial charges of:

  • Criminal mischief, a third-degree felony
  • Assault, a class A misdemeanor

Bail for each was set at $5,000.

Four other people are believed to have been involved in the attack, the statement says.

On the night of the attack, Payson police responded to a report of an assault in the area of 285 N. 100 East.

At the time of the assault, the victim was with his companion and they were on their way to teach a family in the area, the statement says. Both the victim and his companion were wearing white shirts, ties, slacks and had jackets on, with their church name tags clearly visible.

“The victim reported to officers, that as he and his companion walked towards the house of the family they were going to teach, they encountered roughly six individuals,” the  men’s nearly identical probable cause statements say.

“The victim told responding officers that these individuals were wearing dark hoodies and that some of them were wearing red bandannas covering their lower face.”

The victim stated that the people who initiated the attack were standing near the fence of the family’s house they were going to, and were yelling and cussing.

The victim reported to officers that suspects began the altercation with him, by yelling and swearing at him. He said they repeatedly shouted a racial slur and told him to get out of their “hood” and go back to where he came from.

“The victim reported that one of the suspects approached him and took his cell phone out of his hand and threw it into the roadway, causing damage to the screen,” the statements say. “The victim said that when he walked over to retrieve his phone the suspects followed him and continued yelling racial slurs and swearing at him. The victim said that one of the suspects also said he was going to slit his mother’s throat.”

The victim said that they were also mocking his religion because he was clearly identifiable as a missionary for his church by calling him a “church boy” and telling him to leave their neighborhood, the statement says.

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The victim told officers that one of the suspects had a pair of brass knuckles and was wearing one on each hand. The brass knuckles reportedly had sharp spikes on the ends.

“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 statement saysd. “The victim and his companion told officers that the suspects also encouraged each other while calling the victim racial slurs and swearing at him. The suspects did not at any point target the victim’s companion, who is Caucasian.”

The suspects then allegedly attacked the victim, punching him in the head and face, kicking him in the torso, and shoving him to the ground, the statements say. While the victim was on the ground the suspects allegedly held onto his legs and waist in an attempt to keep him on the ground, the statements say.

The victim fought back, shoving the suspects off of him while trying to free himself from their hold, and the suspects fled the area. During the assault the victim reported that his prescription glasses valued at $1,000 were broken.

Both charges against the suspects are gang-enhanced and considered hate crimes.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also issued a response to the news of the attack:

“The NAACP is outraged over the hate crime that occurred in Payson, Utah, between six individuals that targeted a Black panamanian missionary because of the color of his skin,” says the statement, issued prior to the second arrest.

“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.”

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