A Utah man accused of attacking three Latinos at a tire shop in Salt Lake City after shouting that he wanted to “kill Mexicans” pleaded not guilty Monday to hate crime charges.
Alan Dale Covington, 50, entered his pleas during his first federal court appearance after being charged last week by the U.S. Department of Justice. He will remain jailed after U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells called him a risk of danger to the community.
Covington's court-appointed attorneys didn't fight that order. Lawyer Bob Steele said after the hearing he hasn't had the case long enough to comment on the accusations.
Covington wore a gray jail suit with his hands and legs shackled, answering “Yes, ma’am” when the judge asked him basic questions.
The alleged attack renewed criticism of the state’s 1990s-era hate crimes law, which doesn’t protect specific groups and speaks generally about crimes that block people from freely exercising their constitutional rights.
Covington was charged with assault in state court but not a hate crime because of issues with the law. Salt Lake County Attorney District Attorney Sim Gill said after the attack that the law isn’t “worth the paper it’s written on.”
A legislative proposal to strengthen the hate crimes law is under consideration this session.
Authorities accuse Covington of attacking the victims with a 3-foot metal pole last November, leaving 18-year-old Luis Lopez with serious head wounds after he tried to defend his father, who was hit in the shoulder as he ran away.
Covington told Utah investigators the “Mexican Mafia” had been after him for years and that he went to Lopez Tires on Nov. 27 because “they all know each other,” Salt Lake City police said last year. The department helped the FBI with the investigation.
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