Inland port opponents rally in Salt Lake City before heading into court to face rioting charges

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters in front of the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City on Tuesday Nov. 26, 2019. The Salt Lake County district attorney’s office filed charges last month against 10 people in 3rd District Court accusing them of starting a riot in the lobby of the Salt Lake Chamber offices in July after a protest over the inland port turned into a violent confrontation with police. All 10 face a charge of rioting, a third-degree felony with a possible sentence of one to 15 years. Nine of them face a charge of criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor. The protestors have their first court appearance on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. and are planning a rally beforehand.

The 10 people charged with starting a riot in the lobby of the Salt Lake Chamber offices during an inland port protest that turned violent this summer made their first appearances in court Tuesday.

Each faces a charge of rioting, nine of them carrying a third-degree felony count. Nine of them also face a charge of criminal trespass, a class B misdemeanor.

Ahead of their first appearances in 3rd District Court — where the defendants were advised of charges, appointed a judge and an attorney, if needed — several of the defendants stood outside with supporters on the steps of the Matheson Courthouse, their breath billowing into the cold November morning, and called on the state to drop what they see as inflated charges.

“We’re not begging on our knees, we reject your felonies!” they chanted.

One person held a sign that said “drop the charges.” Another, dressed as a wetland bird, held a sign that said “Birds and trees, not felonies.”

The 10 people facing charges of rioting are:

• Richard Anderson Jr., 31, of Salt Lake City.

• Joshua Macrae Baker-Cooper, 34, of Salt Lake City.

• Kaden Cicily Fralick, 21, of Salt Lake City.

• Nicholas Evert Jones, 30, of Salt Lake City.

• Amy Kathleen Kovac, 28, of Salt Lake City.

• Randy Navarette, 20, of Magna.

• Rosemarie Zoe Obrien, 25, of Oskaloosa, Kan.

• Ethan Merrill Petersen, 25, of Salt Lake City.

• Jackson Richman, 18, of West Jordan.

• Hannah Kelman Zivolich, 24, of Mexican Hat.

Deeda Seed, an anti-port activist with Stop the Polluting Port, spoke during the rally and said she was there “in solidarity” with those who had “put their bodies on the line” to draw attention to the possible environmental impacts of the inland port, a massive distribution hub that opponents worry will have impacts on traffic, air quality and the Great Salt Lake ecosystem.

She promised that community members would help with legal fees and that opponents would continue to fight the port “in any way that we can.”

After her initial court appearance, Fralick told reporters outside the courtroom that the charges were “a blatant act of political oppression.”

“The inland port harms our community and we, as defendants, are members of this community," she said. "These charges need to be dropped now. That’s all I have to say.”

The July inland port demonstration, organized by ICE Free SLC, Civil Riot, Utah Against Police Brutality and other community groups, lasted nearly two hours. Police shut down 400 South between 200 East and State Street for more than an hour as demonstrators chanted, sang and at times danced inside and outside the Chamber building.

Activists held the protest, which began as a peaceful act of civil disobedience outside Salt Lake City Hall before moving to the Chamber building, to raise concerns about the possible impacts of the inland port, which is expected to bring increased rail, truck and air traffic along with tailpipe emissions. The Inland Port Authority Board has promised to mitigate any negative impacts as a result of the project.

Police arrived at the Salt Lake Chamber offices, 175 E. 400 South, to find more than 200 protesters in the building — 50 of them in the sixth-floor chamber offices, chanting loudly.

Five people on that floor — Anderson, Kovac, Zivolich, Fralick and Obrien — had linked arms, using cylinders to cover their wrists and hands in a protest tactic known as a “sleeping dragon,” according to probable cause statements. All five face charges of rioting and criminal trespass.

In the lobby, people in the crowd chanted “f--- the police,” and surrounded some officers, according to probable cause statements. One officer was pulled into the crowd and was punched and kicked, police said.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown told reporters at the time that the department had documented six assaults against officers from 119 body camera downloads. Seventy-five officers responded to the scene over the course of five hours and ultimately arrested eight people.

Afterward, Gov. Gary Herbert characterized the activists involved as “borderline terrorists," while protesters pointed to the conduct of police, who they said were overly aggressive, as escalating the clash.

Utah Against Police Brutality organizer Dave Newlin — who faces counts of riot and criminal trespass in Salt Lake City Justice Court as a result of the protest — has said he was punched in the face by a police officer. (Newlin is a former Salt Lake Tribune employee.)

Darin Mann, a community advocate who does not face any charges as a result of the protest, posted a pair of videos to Facebook in the wake of the event that showed an officer dragging a demonstrator along the ground and another punching a protester in the face. He said an officer had choked him to the point he nearly vomited.

The defendants are scheduled to appear again in court Feb. 7.