The man who was handcuffed and removed from a Utah Senate hearing on banning vaccine passports in March was given several opportunities to leave voluntarily before Utah Highway Patrol officers dragged him out. That’s according to official reports, witness accounts, and body camera footage obtained through an open records request by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Although the man was arrested, the charges were dropped. Senate leadership expressed regret following the incident and have suggested possibly implementing new procedures for staffers and the public to ensure a similar situation does not happen again. No new policy changes have been implemented, however.
“Allowing the public to participate in the committee process is extremely valuable; however, there is an appropriate way for the public to participate. We are developing ways to help the public better understand the expectations of decorum to attend and participate in committee meetings. We also plan to provide additional training to elected officials and staff prior to the next legislative session,” Aundrea Peterson, Senate deputy chief of staff, said in a statement to The Tribune.
The incident highlighted still-simmering anger from anti-vaccine activists from COVID-related restrictions from the previous year. HB60, which was being debated at the time, would have prevented the state and private businesses from requiring any proof of vaccination for customers, employees or members of the public. The bill died in the Senate without a vote on the final night of the 2022 session.
The Salt Lake Tribune reached out to the man who was arrested but he did not return a request for comment. The Tribune generally does not name people who are charged with minor crimes and in this case the charges were dropped.
The video starts at the March 1 meeting of the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee, when Chairman Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, warned attendees that signs, stickers, posters and other visible displays of support or opposition to legislation were not allowed.
“We do not allow posters. We don’t allow stickers. We don’t allow protests or chants. We don’t allow other kinds of demonstrations of how you feel about the bill. The chair will allow you to flip him off, but please don’t flip anyone else off,” McCay said as he delayed the start of the meeting to allow the crowd to remove stickers supporting a bill against so-called vaccine passports.
Senate rules empower the chair of any standing committee to preserve decorum and ensure that legislators and members of the public “act in a dignified and respectful manner.”
As most of the crowd complied with McCay’s request, bodycam footage from a Utah Highway Patrol officer in the room shows a senate staffer moving toward a member of the audience in a white hat.
Multiple officer reports and a witness statement say the man refused to take off the sticker at first, then moved it to different parts of his body and eventually to the back of his phone.
“Security asked a gentleman to remove his stickers before start time. Removed the sticker from his hat and put on his phone. Asked again, he turned the phone over,” a witness statement provided to the Utah Highway Patrol read.
During an interview with a local podcast, the man claimed there were no rules against stickers or other displays in committee meeting rooms.
“The only written rule says you can’t have a sign in the House gallery. Even that doesn’t say anything about stickers, and there’s no written rule in the Senate,” he said on the podcast.
After about a minute, the Senate staffer gestures to a UHP trooper who approaches the man and repeatedly asks him to stand up, which he does not do. Audience members sitting next to the man are asked to move to give officers better access as he continues to ignore their requests.
“You’re being removed from this meeting,” an officer says to the man, who replies that he has complied and removed the stickers.
The man stands up as two additional officers attempt to lead him away by grabbing his arms. He recoils, and the crowd begins to loudly protest the decision to remove him.
“Lemme tell you what’s happening,” the lead officer says to the man. “You’re disrupting the meeting. They’ve asked you to be removed from the meeting. You can leave, and we’re good, or we can remove you, and you’re going to be cited and other things.”
As the man continues to protest, the officer asks him twice if he wants to leave voluntarily or be arrested. The man does not answer, prompting the lead officer to inform him he would be arrested.
A scuffle breaks out as the man is grabbed by troopers who pull him away from his chair and handcuff him, then carry him out to the hallway over shouts of “This is evil” and “You swore an oath to us, not the government,” from members of the crowd.
The incident report says officers grabbed the man by his right and left wrist while another officer pushed him from behind toward the wall, “using a fair amount of strength as he was resisting this movement.”
“Once in handcuffs, I told him we would be walking him out the doorway. As we moved, he went down to his knees, refusing to walk,” Officer Greg Holley wrote in his report.
Once outside the room, the man was laid on the floor face down as he alternately asked bystanders for help and to “please film” the incident.
“Guys, I’m traumatized here. Somebody, please help me,” the man says as officers attempt to bring him to his feet and walk him out of the hallway. Ultimately, officers had to carry him to their squad room in the Capitol.
The body camera footage ends at this point. An incident report says the man was read his rights and cited for disrupting a meeting. After refusing to answer questions, the man told officers he was having a panic attack. Salt Lake City Fire was dispatched to check on the man, who cleared him medically.
This is not the first time the protester has been removed from a public meeting for disruptive behavior. He was charged and found guilty of criminal trespass for disrupting a Davis School District meeting. In response, he filed a federal lawsuit claiming his civil rights had been violated and asked for more than $600 million in damages.