PROVO — A judge has ordered a Payson man to serve nearly two months in jail, saying he could have tried to stop a hate crime attack on a Black Latter-day Saint missionary but made no effort to do so.
“Anybody could have stood up and said, ‘Guys, this isn’t right,’” 4th District Judge James Brady said shortly before announcing Malachi West’s sentence. “That didn’t happen.”
West, one of three men accused in the Jan. 28 attack, pleaded guilty earlier this month to a reduced charge of assault, a class B misdemeanor.
He originally faced a third-degree felony count of assault under a hate crime enhancement, but admitted to the lesser misdemeanor charge as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
While there’s no evidence West hurled racial slurs or struck the missionary, the judge said, he was part of the group that was aggressive as its members donned hoods, masks and one or two sets of brass knuckles with spikes.
Police said the group, including West’s brother, Sebastian West, and another man, Nathan Thomas, of Nephi, had gone to the home of a Payson man to confront him. The missionary, who is Black and Panamanian, then intervened and tried to call police to report the threats they were making, court documents say.
Police said that’s when the group threw the missionary’s phone across the street before “all of the suspects” attacked him, punching and kicking him and struggling with him on the ground. Charging documents say the group called the missionary the N-word and began punching and kicking him in the head, saying, “This is our town,” and “Go back to slavery.”
The judge said those comments could justify charges much more severe than the one West pleaded guilty to. But Brady said he wouldn’t second-guess the plea offer prosecutors made and assumes it was tied to issues with evidence or witness availability.
Deputy Utah County attorney Greg Johnson said the missionaries were targeted and outnumbered that day, calling West’s behavior “cowardly.”
“They had no reasonable way of defending themselves,” Johnson said, adding that his efforts to get in touch with the missionary who sustained injuries to his head, shoulder and ribs were unsuccessful ahead of the sentencing hearing.
The judge ordered West to pen an apology to the victim, pay a fine of more than $1,000, and complete a decision-making class, in addition to the 60-day term in the Utah County Jail. It’s a longer time behind bars than the 30 days prosecutors requested.
Brady granted West credit for the five days he served in jail before posting bond.
Defense attorney Dana Facemyer emphasized that his client wasn’t the “primary actor” in the assault. Facemyer estimated he has handled 500 similar assault cases but very few resulted in jail sentences.
The defense attorney said an internet meme using his client’s mug shot and a racial slur has circulated online and will continue to follow him for decades, in effect handing down a different sort of sentence.
“I’m not saying my client shouldn’t have de-escalated. I think he should have, too. I’m saying I think maybe everyone there should have de-escalated,” Facemyer said. “I think this case, your honor, got a lot of publicity, got a lot of attention based on who was there and also on our current cultural experiences that we’re having right now in the United States. And for that, your honor, I would ask the court not to hold all of that against my client.”
West appeared over a video feed from his attorney’s office, telling the judge he went to the Payson home to demand an apology from the homeowner who he said had thrown him to the ground the night before.
“I didn’t throw any punches. I didn’t say any racial slurs or anything,” he said. “I do recognize my actions were in the wrong. I shouldn’t have went down there, but I did and things happened. And I was part of an assault that did occur and I do apologize for that.”
West said he is busy working long hours at a cabinet company and trying to improve, but the legal issues have held him back.
Sebastian West returns to court for an arraignment Thursday. The judge has issued a warrant for Thomas’ arrest after he failed to appear in court. Both face a charge of assault, a third-degree felony.