Protesters who painted Salt Lake City streets, smashed windows take plea deal, must pay $100K

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Protesters paint the street red in front of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 9, 2020.

They are accused of painting the street red and smashing windows at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office a year ago, part of intense protests over the police shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal.

Some of them faced felony charges that could have put them in prison for life.

And on Tuesday, four of the nine protesters charged took a plea deal, admitting to much lesser crimes, which will be dismissed in 12 months if they aren’t accused of additional crimes and meet other conditions.

The deal — similar to what four others have already pleaded to — requires them to pay restitution for what took place on July 9, 2020, after District Attorney Sim Gill said two officers were legally justified in shooting and killing 22-year-old Palacios-Carbajal.

A crowd of about 100 people, many of whom had rallied daily in the summer heat pressing Gill to act, met yet again outside the prosecutor’s office building in Salt Lake City. This time to show their outrage over his ruling.

Two protesters took metal rods and broke four windows. Other protesters poured buckets of paint on the road and spread it on the building’s facade. They used the color red to symbolize the blood they said was on Gill’s hands.

Salt Lake County prosecutors initially filed first-degree felony charges, normally reserved for the most heinous crimes like murder and rape, against eight of the nine protesters linked to that property damage.

Eight people — Sofia Alcalá, Marvin Oliveros, Madalena McNeil, Madison Alleman, Viviane Turman, Michelle Mower, Richard Davis and Emanuel Hill — originally faced first-degree felony charges. Another, Hurija Mustafic, faced two misdemeanor charges for allegedly assaulting an officer.

After concerns about a conflict of interest, since protesters damaged the D.A.’s office building, an outside prosecutor took over. A week after he was appointed, Dane Nolan filed new charges, reducing the severity of every offense to lower-level felonies and misdemeanors.

Eight protesters, as of Tuesday, have taken deals that lower the offenses in all cases to misdemeanors. Davis’ case is still ongoing.

Alcalá, Mower and Hill have previously pleaded to deals that matched what the four other protesters agree to Tuesday.

The deal for all but Mustafic — whose agreement states Mustafic must apologize to two police officers and do a ride-along with one of them — means these protesters must pay for the damage done.

Court documents state the paint and window damage amount to $200,000. The protesters must pay back the $100,000 left after an insurance deductible.

Prosecutors estimate 10 people were involved in spreading the red paint, but they only found and charged six people. Those six people will be required to pay back one-tenth of the paint damage, which amounts to $8,442 each.

Hill, who pleaded guilty to breaking one of the four windows, must pay back one-fourth of that cost, or $3,895, court documents say.

The resolution is a good one, said defense attorney Brent Huff, who is representing Alleman. But he said it doesn’t make up for the repercussions many of these protesters faced for being charged with first-degree felonies.

For Alleman, this meant a group of officers showed up unannounced at her family’s home in Price and “very aggressively tried to execute the warrant” and impound her vehicle.

“To be fair, that’s what officers do. They have an order from a judge with first-degree felony charges. That typically means they are very dangerous…,” Huff said. “That’s the treatment that these defendants got for committing property crimes.”

The first-degree charges will stay on their FBI records for the rest of their lives, Huff said. Unless their state records are expunged, he added that future employers or landlords can see the charge.

Huff said the appropriate charges were the misdemeanors the protesters have plead to.

“Whichever side of this debate you’re on, whichever side of any political disagreement you’re on, as citizens in this country, we deserve to be charged, if we’re going to be charged, based on the evidence, based on the law, based on justice,” Huff said. “Not to serve some political means. Not to send some message to the public.”

Gill has maintained that his office did nothing wrong when it filed first-degree felony charges against protesters accused in the July 9 protests — just like they did in cases of other protesters involved in a May 30 rally. He owned both charging decisions Tuesday.

For instance, he said, Salt Lake County prosecutors charged 14 people with first-degree felonies for flipping over and damaging a Salt Lake City police vehicle on May 30. Nine of those cases resolved in a plea in abeyance that lowered the severity of the offenses (even though the cases adjudicated in 3rd District Court only lowered the severity to a second-degree felony). The other cases are still pending, court records show.

Critics, Gill said, are comparing the start of the criminal process to the end of the criminal process. He wants people to focus on the result, which he contends are similar despite being tried by different prosecutors.

“If the argument is that we should have treated these (July 9) cases differently,” Gill said, “my point simply is that we treated them just like every other case.”

As for the consequences protesters may have faced because of his office’s initial filing, Gill said, “If you engage in unlawful conduct, there’s going to be consequences.”

He contends the consequences for felony charges are similar, regardless of the severity of felony.

McNeil said Tuesday that even with this deal, the case isn’t over. The plea in abeyance means she must pay back the damages and not get into more criminal trouble. She said she is afraid to go to protests, or anything that resembles one, because she fears backlash from police who may be upset over the deal.

“The next year is going to be me looking over my shoulder for cops ready to arrest me, ruin the plea agreement,” she said, “and get me sent to jail.”

She doesn’t believe prosecutors should have filed any charges. Because, no matter how it was finally resolved, the charged protesters “have been put through the ringer and repeatedly traumatized with no guarantee of safety in the future.

“The process has always been the punishment,” she said.

To help pay off the damages, the protesters have created a fundraising account. As of Tuesday afternoon, the fund had more than $17,500.

The hearing Tuesday was mostly procedural. Judge Richard Mrazik ran the defendants through a routine line of questioning to make sure they understood what is expected from them in this deal.

He went through the defendants one by one for about 30 minutes. Then the hearing was over.

Before Mrazik adjourned the virtual meeting, Turman’s defense Attorney Jesse Nix thanked Mrazik and Nolan for their professionalism. He said Mrazik showed his client the “respect and dignity that she deserves.”

To Nolan, Nix said, “We appreciate how you handled this case and recognized what this case actually was.”

A property crime case, he said. One that doesn’t deserve prison time, much less life in prison.