Though it called a physical altercation between two state lawmakers at the Utah Capitol last year “offensive and inexcusable,” the Layton City attorney’s office said Friday it had declined to file assault charges against House Minority Leader Brian King.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, lodged a criminal complaint against King after an encounter that happened in a hallway in the state Senate building last October. Layton screened the case to avoid potential conflicts of interest in Salt Lake County.
The city reviewed the video footage, witness statements and the verbal and electronic communications between the two lawmakers and determined the evidence “does not rise to the level required to meet the burden of proof and the standard of likelihood of a conviction at trial,” the city said in a written statement.
In November, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office released a 42-second video of the altercation, which showed bystanders seemingly unaware that it was happening just feet away from them.
The footage shows Thatcher emerge from a hallway and put his hand on King’s shoulder. King then grabs and pulls Thatcher toward a wall and the Republican pushes back. No audio is available, but they appear to engage in a brief conversation before walking off in the same direction.
Thatcher held firm to his belief Friday night that King was guilty and argued that the Democrat had lied to investigators about what had precipitated the event.
“King is a very skilled orator and his version of this story is going to be a mean Republican is trying to pick on a poor noble Democrat and it only takes one juror to sympathize with him for this case to go away," Thatcher told The Salt Lake Tribune. "So while I’m obviously disappointed, I certainly respect the prosecutor’s thought process and I can’t fault his conclusion that while an assault did occur, there is not a reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
King declined to comment on the decision Friday night.
In a previous description of the incident to The Salt Lake Tribune, Thatcher said King “grabbed me with both hands and shoved me toward the wall and repeatedly hit my sternum with his finger while shouting that I had no idea what it’s like to be in a superminority and how dare I criticize him for partisanship.”
King didn’t deny making physical contact with Thatcher after a disagreement that he said was about the minority leader supporting Thatcher’s opponent in November’s election. But he did argue the allegations were “significantly exaggerated.”
Thatcher, who was re-elected last November, took his complaint first to the Legislature’s human resources office, but said it would not hold King accountable for this incident. In light of what the Republican lawmaker describes as a history of aggressive behavior, he then went to law enforcement.
Sen.-elect Dan McCay, R-Riverton, confirmed King had punched him on the arm, and Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said King got in a loud and aggressive argument with Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, on the House floor during debate in 2016 but with no physical contact.
Though Layton declined to press criminal charges for the most recent incident, the city attorney’s office expressed confidence that the lawmakers’ “respective legislative bodies have or will appropriately address this issue pursuant to their rules and regulations.”
Former House Speaker Greg Hughes conducted an “independent fact-finding effort” into the case, according to a Dec. 31 memo the legislator sent to former Senate President Wayne Niederhauser after he concluded that process of talking to potential witnesses and reviewing relevant footage.
Hughes noted that King had made attempts to apologize but said Thatcher had crossed several “bright lines” of acceptable conduct by repeatedly attempting to direct the investigative efforts of state employees and their decision-making processes in order to “satisfy his desired action and outcome.”
“They have been caught between doing their job as they normally would and feeling the pressure to accommodate Senator Thatcher’s demands,” reads the letter, which The Salt Lake Tribune obtained through an open-records request.
Hughes noted he would give “serious consideration” to pursuing the issue further if his time in the Legislature were not ending.
“The timing of this is unfortunate because there’s still a lot of work to get through in the Legislative session," Thatcher said of Layton’s decision on Friday. "But I look forward to addressing legislative code of conduct and workplace safety in the future.”