BLACK Lives Matter protesters could be jailed for life after trashing a district attorney building during a demonstration.
The Salt Lake City protesters could face up to life in jail if they’re convicted of splashing red paint and smashing the building’s windows last month.
District Attorney Sim Gill inspects the damage to his office[/caption]
The felony criminal mischief charges are more serious because they carry a gang enhancement.
Prosecutors said Wednesday that’s justified because the protesters worked together to cause thousands of dollars in damage, but watchdogs called the use of the 1990s-era law troubling, especially in the context of criminal justice reform and minority communities.
“This is so far beyond just the enforcement of the law, it feels retaliatory,” said Madalena McNeil, who is facing a potential life sentence over felony criminal mischief and riot charges.
Charging documents say she bought red paint at a Home Depot before the July 9 demonstration sparked by a fatal police shooting ruling.
Police and protesters have clashed in the city[/caption]
She later yelled at and shifted her weight as if to slam into police during the demonstration, charges state.
“It’s really frustrating and scary … I just feel so much concern for what this means for the right to protest in general.”
She confirmed that she has been charged with a felony for “shifting my weight in front of a cop,” on Twitter.
“Proud to confirm that I have been charged with felony shifting my weight in front of a cop. Thank you Sim Gill for your incredible work keeping our community safe from people who can move,” she wrote.
The office was covered in red paint[/caption]
However, the Utah demonstrators are unlikely to serve prison time according to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
If convicted as charged, they would get at least five years – criminal cases often end with a plea to lesser counts.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be going to prison on this,” he said. Gill is a generally reform-minded Democrat who said he has participated in Black Lives Matter protests himself and declined to charge dozens of protesters accused of curfew violations.
Still, he argued “there’s some people who want to engage in protest, but they want to be absolved of absolved of any behavior,” he said.
Posters were taped to the office doors[/caption]
“This is not about protest, this is about people who are engaging in criminal conduct.”
Another defense attorney Jesse Nix, who represents protester Viviane Turman, questioned whether Gill should have filed charges involving his own office.
“No one should get life in prison for putting paint on a building,” he said.
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More than 30 people have been charged with various crimes in Salt Lake County since the national wave of protests over George Floyd’s death began in late May.
Similar first-degree felony counts have also been filed against people accused of flipping and burning a police car May 30.
“We have to have some agreement of what constitutes protected First Amendment speech,” Gill said. “When you cross that threshold, should you be held accountable or not?”