A group of Utah protesters accused of splashing red paint on and smashing the windows of a federal building could face life in prison after a local prosecutor elevated their charges.

A group of protesters allegedly vandalized the office of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill in Salt Lake City last month after Gill cleared two officers of wrongdoing in the police killing of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal.

Carbajal was fatally shot running away from police on May 23. Officers fired at Carbajal 34 times, but Gill determined they were justified because Carbajal repeatedly dropped and picked up a gun while fleeing, according to Gill’s investigation.

The lack of charges against the officers sparked multiple protests, culminating in a standoff between riot police and around 300 protesters on July 9. Someone smashed windows and threw red paint on Gill’s office. Riot police eventually showed up and dispersed the crowd, The Washington Post reported.

Gill has now charged seven people with felony rioting, which carries a sentence of five years to life behind bars under a gang enhancement upgrade. 

Critics accused Gill of filing excessive charges and questioned why he was allowed to file the charges, given the conflict of interest. The vandalism was carried out against Gill’s office building, and Gill was called out by name that night by protesters, The Salt Lake Tribune pointed out:

So far, Alcalá, Marvin Oliveros, Madalena McNeil, Madison Alleman, Viviane Turman, Michelle Mower and Emanuel Hill have been charged with criminal mischief, which normally tops out as a second-degree felony, but prosecutors argued the charge should be upgraded using a “gang enhancement.” The seventh defendant, Hurija Mustafic, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of alleged assault against a police officer.

Brent Huff, a lawyer who represents Alleman, argued that the charges were “retaliatory.”

Jesse Nix, a lawyer who represents Turman, called the charges “despicable” and “an absolute conflict.” “I’m disappointed that they didn’t recognize the conflict and send it out to someone else to decide what to charge,” Nix told the Tribune. “Because right now, it feels like Sim Gill is upset at the damage to his beautiful building so he’s going to do everything he can to scare protesters.”

Gill told The Daily Beast he was handling the case because of staff shortages but said other prosecutors would handle the case going forward. He added that those prosecutors could decide to remove the enhancements.

McNeil is facing several felony charges in connection with allegedly buying the red paint used to deface the building and trying to shove a riot police officer, according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast.

“I’m not scared because I think that I did anything wrong, because I know that I didn’t,” McNeil told The Daily Beast. “But it would be very foolish of me to look at the potential for life in prison and not be scared. When I heard about that [the charges], I realized that in the eyes of the state, I had become an enemy for exercising what is supposed to be a protected right.” 


Source link