A 17-year-old has been arrested and could face hate crime charges for allegedly assaulting a fellow teenager who was hugging his boyfriend while standing at the end of his driveway.
Police in Sandy, Utah, say the victim, Christian Peacock, who celebrated his 18th birthday just two days after the incident, was hugging his boyfriend Jacob Metcalf around midnight last Saturday when a car driving down the street revved its engine. Someone inside the car yelled homophobic slurs at them.
The car sped off, and the two teens resumed talking, occasionally hugging for another 45 minutes.
The same car then sped by, but this time, it stopped, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Two teenagers emerged from the car, one telling the couple, “We don’t like seeing gay people on our street!”
That man then took off his shirt and taunted the couple, flexing his chest and asking, “Do we turn you on?”
Three other teens in the car laughed as they filmed the altercation. The first occupant of the car then walked up to Metcalf and pushed him in the shoulder.
Peacock jumped in front of his boyfriend, telling the assailant, “You’re repressed. That’s why you’re acting this way. You’re probably also gay and acting out because of it.”
The teenager who started the altercation then punched Peacock on the left side of the head, leaving him with a concussion and brain swelling, which required him to be hospitalized.
Neither Peacock nor Metcalf had previously known any of the teens in the car.
A portion of the incident was captured on video and shared on Twitter, gaining more than 112,000 views and more than 2,600 retweets in the past week. In the video, two of the teens who had been in the car can be seen and heard yelling homophobic slurs at the couple, who repeatedly ask the group to leave the area and stop harassing them.
This is the perpetrator of this hate crime. pic.twitter.com/XlKUJ9DCRX
— Rainbow Youth Project USA (@RainbowYouthUSA) July 30, 2022
According to the Tribune, police hit a dead end when they called the owner of the car seen in the video, whom they now believe lied by telling officers he sold the car two months ago to someone else.
But police were able to identify the alleged assailant thanks to the efforts of Peacock’s sister, Jocelynn, who heard her brother being punched and quickly responded.
Jocelynn grabbed her phone and began taking pictures of the alleged assailant and the others in the car. She chased the car down the street and captured the license plate number before sharing the information on her Instagram and Snapchat pages.
One of her friends recognized the car, and gave her the address of the owner, who was the father of one of the boys in the car.
When Jocelynn confronted the teen’s mother, she denied her son had thrown the punch that injured Christian. But she agreed to give Jocelynn’s phone number to the mother of the boy who allegedly did.
That mother ended up calling Jocelynn, who invited the family over to talk to them about the incident — but not before she called police and had them waiting around the corner.
Police then arrested the 17-year-old teenager on suspicion of simple assault, a Class B misdemeanor, questioning him and eventually releasing him into the custody of his parents.
However, police have since said that based on the video of the incident, they will recommend charges for simple assault with a hate crime enhancement, which would raise the charges from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor, according to Salt Lake CBS affiliate KUTV.
While the alleged assailant has yet to be formally charged, if he is, he could potentially face jail time. Typically, Class A misdemeanors carry a sentence of up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine, although the alleged assailant’s age and the fact that he’ll be tried in juvenile court, could mitigate those circumstances.
“We want people to know that there’s no room for this in Sandy,” Sandy Police Sgt. Greg Moffitt told the Tribune. “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.”
If the alleged assailant is charged with the hate crime enhancement, the case will be one of the first tests of a new hate crime law approved in 2019.
Utah lawmakers strengthened the law after a spate of incidents exposed the lack of enforcement mechanisms in the old statute, which prevented prosecutors from either bringing charges altogether or seeking additional penalties for bias-motivated crimes.
Those incidents included the beating of a Latino tire shop owner and his son in 2018, a mob chasing a group of LGBTQ people following the Utah Pride Festival in Salt Lake City that same year, the 2015 beating of two gay men who were hugging goodnight, and an assault of a gay man outside a Salt Lake City bar in 2019.
Now — at least in theory — any criminal charges that appear to be motivated by bias against another person because of a protected characteristic can be raised one offense level higher, carrying additional penalties. It remains to see what will transpire or whether the juvenile involved in the attack will be charged.
In a post to an Instagram account, a user has claimed that the alleged assailant is being “framed, and calling for “justice” for him, using language that appears to call for vigilante justice against Peacock and Metcalf.
“[Name redacted] was framed, he dont deserve this hate!!! That video was Edited, CGI, and Photoshopped!!” the post says. “I know he wouldn’t do this… That gay boy Christian is just faking it and he is the real criminal. We NEED to find these men and teach them a lesson. Do it for [name redacted].”
Stefanie Peacock, Christian’s mother, told Metro Weekly in an email that the family believes the account is fake.
Sandy police have told them they cannot do anything about the post, and the family is trying to get the post — which initially tagged both Christian and Jocelynn and included their personal information — reported to Instagram and removed.
Peacock told the Tribune that the attack “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.”
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