The protesters arrested last month for not leaving when police tried to forcibly end a massive — and, at times, violent — rally in Utah’s capital will not face any criminal charges, according to a decision from the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office.
That applies to more than 40 people who were taken to jail on May 30 and booked for failing to disperse, a misdemeanor, after violating an 8 p.m. curfew that was issued for the demonstration against police brutality. District Attorney Sim Gill said Thursday that those counts will be declined “as a matter of fairness” because people have the right to protest.
“We must also acknowledge that public safety includes protecting the constitutional rights of Salt Lake County residents, especially when the exercise of those rights does not involve injury or harm to people or property,” he added in a statement, along with the Salt Lake City prosecutor’s office.
He advised that any police agencies sending those cases to him for review would do better to “devote your resources to more serious charges.”
The May 30 protest was one of the earliest and largest in Salt Lake City to come in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The rallies have continued almost every day since, both here and across the country, but have been less volatile.
Participants have denounced racism and discrimination against Black people, particularly by law enforcement. And most of the events have been peaceful.
At the beginning of the movement, though, the protesters nationwide often clashed with police.
In Salt Lake City on May 30, demonstrators overturned a police car and lit it on fire. They also threw rocks at the windows of businesses and painted phrases, such as “Black Lives Matter,” across benches and sidewalks. Officers responded by shooting rubber bullets and bean bags into the crowd.
Police say they had warned individuals to leave several times after Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued the curfew in an attempt to clear the demonstrators. But many remained more than 90 minutes later.
At that point, officers say, they started arresting the people who stayed.
Law enforcement restrained protesters with zip ties and loaded them onto a bus to the Davis County jail in Farmington, which was helping to process the arrests. They were then released without bail.
Some of the protesters have told The Salt Lake Tribune that they were trying to leave after police told them to disperse — but were arrested when they started walking away.
Eva Gonzalez said she and her friends twice started to leave and were stopped both times and then handcuffed.
“We all got arrested for pretty much no reason when we weren’t the ones who were rioting. We were peaceful. We were leaving.”
She said she’s glad there won’t be charges — which she cheered about over the phone Thursday — though she questions why there were arrests in the first place.
When Gabriella Figuccia-Gourdin was being arrested that night, she said, she overheard one officer ask another, “What are we even supposed to charge them with?” She also said they didn’t do much to announce the curfew — and she didn’t see the alert on her phone because it was in her bag.
“Great to hear they’re not pressing charges,” she added, “but it just shows that the arrests and curfew, in general, was unconstitutional and a waste of resources and money the state could be using to help out the community.”
Figuccia-Gourdin was there with friends who are persons of color. She said they felt particularly targeted by police with the arrests. The law enforcement action, she said, felt unorganized and unfair.
Gill’s decision applies only to those, including Gonzalez and Figuccia-Gourdin, arrested for failing to disperse.
Several others were also arrested that night on various other charges, including disorderly conduct and assault, and those may still move forward in the courts. One man has since been charged with three felonies for threatening protesters with a bow and arrow. And 10 others have been charged with flipping and burning a police car; the FBI is looking for two more suspects in connection with that.
The district attorney’s office added: “Injury to persons or property and unlawful riot will be pursued where the elements are satisfied and where there is a reasonable likelihood of success at trial.”