Protesters clash with police after DA says officers who killed Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal were legally justified

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters chant “too much food,” as they react to the announced ruling by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Thursday, July 9, 2020, that the shooting death of 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal in May by police officers was legally justified. Angry over the ruling they painted his building red and covered it with posters.

Protesters have gathered for weeks in front of the downtown Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, mostly sticking to their promise of demonstrating every evening until prosecutors released their report on the investigation into the death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal.

Droves of them came out and yelled for justice, for murder charges to be filed against the two officers who shot 22-year-old Palacios-Carbajal as he ran from police, dropping and picking up a gun three times as he stumbled away.

On Thursday, protesters got the report. They didn’t get the charges.

And they kept another promise, one they’ve chanted for more than a month to anyone who would listen: “No justice. No peace.”

In their eyes, they got no justice, so there’d be no peace.

They spilled red paint on the road in front of the district attorney’s office and streaked paint on its walkway and glass facade. Some took metal rods to the building, smashing three windows. Others confronted Salt Lake City police in riot gear, throwing bottles.

Some police were injured, and officers responded by pushing some protesters to the ground and hitting them with clubs. A police car rammed into a protester’s vehicle that was being used as a barricade.

At least one protester had to be carried away with an injury. One officer went to the hospital. Two people were arrested, SLCPD reported, but didn’t say why.

And because of all that, Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency late Thursday. The order restricts access to the Capitol and approves the mobilization of Department of Public Safety resources as needed.

The order mentioned other recent demonstrations that resulted in damage, including when protesters graffitied the Capitol on May 30. On that day, protesters also flipped and burned a police car and broke the windows out at nearby train station waiting areas and a 7-Eleven convenience store.

It said that the protests “resulted in civil unrest and threaten to cause bodily injury and destruction or private and public property.” The order remains in effect until 11:59 p.m. on July 13.

When protesters started hitting the windows, officers in riot gear had already gathered nearby. Law enforcement flew a helicopter overheard, shouting a message that protesters were now unlawfully gathering and they needed to leave or be arrested.

Among the blaring sirens and whir of helicopter blades, protesters chanted in response, “We ain’t scared.”

Police were unloading by the van-full when the windows were smashed.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said in a statement, “It was my sincere hope that the protest [Thursday] would remain peaceful as it has night after night,” but after protesters broke windows, police had to move in.

Two hours earlier, organizer Sofia Alcalá had promised some kind of civil disobedience, warning, “They will feel the wrath of the f---ing community today.”

Like most recent nights, the protesters arrived at the district attorney’s office in Salt Lake City at 6 p.m. They chanted, and held up signs. Thirty minutes into the demonstration, about 150 were there.

“How many shots?” was the call. “Thirty-four,” came the crowd’s response.

That’s how many times police shot at Palacios-Carbajal on May 23.

At the time, some protesters shared a permanent marker to write down phone numbers on their arms to call in case they were taken into custody. Activist accounts posted tips to hide their identities and avoid arrest on social media.

Police and city officials planned for a confrontation. Police sent media a heads-up about the use of riot police on Thursday. City managers told employees in an email to plan to work from home on Thursday and Friday.

As the protest got underway, the first act was spreading paint on the street. It’s the second time they’ve done it. They say it is a metaphor for the blood on the hands of District Attorney Sim Gill’s hands when he doesn’t file charges against police.

As protesters painted the road and the building, they asked others there to hold up signs to stop people from filming them. A group encircled some broadcast news reporters to block their cameras. This tactic came after police used footage from past protests to build cases in recent arrests.

Just before 7 p.m., the group had grown to around 300 and started marching, but made it back to the district attorney’s office about 30 minutes later.

Organizers gave speeches, saying Palacios-Carbajal shouldn’t be dead, that police could have used less-than-lethal force, like a stun gun or simply tackling him. Alcalá concluded the speeches just before 7:45 p.m., telling protesters to leave if they didn’t want to be arrested.

Minutes later, they began damaging the building.

That’s when police arrived. They assembled on State Street at 500 South, and demonstrators marched toward them. Demonstrators chanted, “The people united will never be defeated.”

When the two groups met, there were clashes.

Police announced on a bullhorn, that some officers had been injured. Some were pepper sprayed.

“Objects are being used against us, force will be used against you,” an officer said.

That first clash with officers ended in protesters retreating. They walked along State Street, but soon regrouped and returned to the district attorney’s office.

This time, they told police they wanted to go home. They did.

Return to Story