Salt Lake City protest halted after arrest of organizer

(Courtesy of Laja Field) A screengrab image from a video shot by Laja Field on July 2, 2020, of an arrest in downtown Salt Lake City.

A planned Thursday protest against police violence ended early after an organizer was arrested for allegedly interfering with officers in what police say is a continuing trend.

But a motorist who stopped said she pulled over to start filming because she was concerned that officers appeared to be violent during the arrest in downtown Salt Lake City.

“They were kneeling on a man, and I just thought in this climate I should pull over,” said Laja Field.

Salt Lake City Police spokesman Greg Wilking said officers had stopped a wrong-way driver near Washington Square, and while officers dealt with the motorist, the protester walked into the road on 500 South.

The protester was yelling at and filming the officers, creating a “hazard” by distracting them from the driver, Wilking said. The man also could have impeded other drivers by being in the road, making the situation a public safety threat, he said.

Wilking said that filming police isn’t illegal, but standing in the street and distracting officers from a traffic stop is. He said the man’s alleged behavior was a concern because it was the second time in two days protesters had allegedly hindered police response. On Wednesday, Wilking said, a small group broke off from demonstrators and interfered with officers, and later paramedics, who were trying to give medical aid to a man.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sofia Alcala leads the group in chants during a Justice For Bernardo protest at City Hall, on Thursday, July 2, 2020.

He added that officers use the force necessary to get suspects to comply. The man arrested Thursday was booked on one count of interfering with an arresting officer, a class B misdemeanor, and was being held on $1,360 bail.

Field said when she got out of her car, she approached the officers and yelled to ask what they were doing. Officers looked at her like “deer in the headlights,” she said, and got off the protester soon after that.

In a video Field recorded, the man yells that he was only filming police when they arrested him. “All because I filmed them when they were trying to hurt someone,” the man says on the video as officers put him into a police vehicle.

About 40 people were at Washington Square, around Salt Lake City Hall, for a demonstration that organizers called off after the arrest. Demonstrators had planned to bang on pots and pans to make noise outside City Hall before having a short march.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters brought b pots and pans to bang at the Justice For Bernardo protest at City Hall, on Thursday, July 2, 200.

Natalie Blanton, who was at the protest, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the arrest scared demonstrators, who she said have felt that police are trying to target them, especially the more vocal members.

“They’re trying to make a statement,” she said, “and it did feel like harassment.”

She said that about 20 minutes after protesters learned the man was arrested, police drove back by the square with the back windows of their vehicle rolled down a few inches and the arrested man yelled out to demonstrators.

She said the police car left when demonstrators got closer. “And it just felt so intentional, dangling him in front of us,” she said. Another protester, Kate Comstock, said she saw and heard the same event.

Wilking said that officers drove past the square after the man’s arrest because they’d initially taken him to police headquarters and were taking the route back past the park as they drove him to jail.

He said the man had asked for officers to lower his window because he was hot, and police agreed on the condition that he not yell at protesters as they passed the park. And then the man did yell out the window, Wilking said.