He asked the man if he was gay and when he responded “I am,” he hit him. Now, that alleged attacker faces charges of assault — but those will not be enhanced as a hate crime.
That’s because Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, whose office announced how it would prosecute the case Friday, believes it would be “nearly impossible for me to prove that intent” under Utah’s code, which he has long criticized for being unworkable.
“The statute, to me, is not worth the paper it’s written on,” he said.
Instead, Carlo Alazo, 22, from Florida, was charged Friday with three misdemeanors — one count of threatening to use a weapon in a fight and two counts of assault. And though Utah’s hate crime law allows for an enhancement on misdemeanors, like he faces, it has never been used successfully in court.
“I would have to show that the person involved in criminal behavior had the intent to deny a constitutionally protected right,” Gill added, such as free speech or religious expression, which doesn’t apply in this case. “It’s so burdensome, we don’t even go to it.”
Alazo was captured on video appearing to hit Sal Trejo outside a Salt Lake City bar last weekend. The eight-second clip that Trejo said he recorded with his phone opens near 327 S. Main St., where a man is asking, “Are you gay, though?”
Trejo replies, “Oh, I am.”
“Oh, then you are gay.”
“Yeah, but ...”
Alazo then appears to strike Trejo, knocking his camera out of his hand. Alazo is alleged to have shouted anti-gay and racial slurs and to have later pulled a knife on Trejo and three of his friends, according to the charges. He then dropped the blade on the ground.
Here is the video. Warning, it includes violence and explicit language:
Trejo posted the video on Twitter on Sunday, asking the social media world for help identifying the man and it garnered nationwide attention. He told The Salt Lake Tribune that he hasn’t been updated on the case since Tuesday. But he wasn’t surprised to see Friday that it wouldn’t be treated as a hate crime.
“Utah’s current hate crime statute isn’t written to provide true protection for those who are commonly victims of these crimes,” he said in a written statement. “I am, however, devastated for all of the members of Utah’s marginalized communities who will see this news. I’m sure their hearts will break like mine has.”
Trejo said, though, that he hopes what happened to him will help prompt the Legislature to act. A bill that would strengthen Utah’s hate crimes statute passed a Senate committee earlier this week — the furthest any measure on the topic has gotten for at least a decade.
“My call to all Utah residents is to reach out to their lawmakers and ask them to vote ‘yes’ on SB103,” Trejo added. “This week, I was the victim of a hate crime. Who’s next? The time for lawmakers to take action and protect Utahns from hate crimes is long past due.”
He said earlier this week that he’s previously been called “a f----t" before, but he’s never been hit. According to the charges, witnesses said Alazo was on his phone when he told the person he was talking to that he was “standing by a gay guy.” He then apparently mocked Trejo’s jacket.
“Trejo reacted to the comment and Alazo became more belligerent,” court documents state.
When he appeared to be getting increasingly angry, Trejo decided to start recording it. That’s when Alazo allegedly punched him and shoved one of his friends.
If convicted, Alazo could face up to one year in jail for the count of threatening use of a weapon. The assault counts each carry up to six months in jail.
State Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, the only openly gay member of the state Legislature, responded to Trejo’s original video on Twitter with this message: “It’s time for the UT Legislature to act on hate crimes legislation.”
Equality Utah posted that it was “deeply alarmed” by the assault. “No one should be attacked simply because of who they are.”
The event came a week after a pride flag was torn down outside a Salt Lake City restaurant, which Kitchen co-owns with his husband, Moudi Sbeity, and three months after a Latino father and son were attacked outside their tire shop by a man yelling that he wanted to “kill a Mexican.”
— Tribune reporter Scott Pierce contributed to this report.
Correction: Feb. 22, 2:20 • An earlier version of this story had a headline that misstated where the suspect lives.
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