SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Controversial new charges have come down against several protesters who prosecutors said vandalized the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office during a July demonstration.
Some of the protesters face felony charges, and now some Utah officials and organizations are calling the possible punishment excessive.
According to documents filed in Third District Court, Madalena McNeil, 28, and at least two others face felony charges that carry a gang enhancement that could be punishable by a life sentence.
The charges stem from a July protest outside the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. Protesters called for justice for Bernardo Palacios Carbajal, 22, who was shot and killed by Salt Lake City police officers in May. District Attorney Sim Gill ruled the shooting legally justified and declined to charge the officers.
In the hours after the ruling, protesters gathered and marched through the streets of downtown Salt Lake City. After windows were broken and the district attorney building was defaced with red paint, police declared the demonstrations “unlawful.”
Investigators said McNeil bought the red paint. According to documents, a detective “viewed surveillance video from the Home Depot located at 328 West 2100 South and was able to identify Madalena Rose McNeil as purchasing the paint and paint supplies just before the protest began.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall took to social media to call the charges extreme.
“If a crime is committed, there should be a consequence, but that consequence should be portion to the crime itself,” Mendenhall said in a video shared to Twitter.
District Attorney Sim Gill described the charges as “an articulation of what the evidence has presented.”
Gill explained that an incident that results in more than $5,000 in damage is classified as a second-degree felony, and any incident where the suspect works in concert with more than two people is subject to a group or gang enhancement.
Gill noted the gang enhancement has been used in several other cases where protests became destructive including the Inland Port protests and May 30 riots in downtown Salt Lake City.
“This isn’t anything new or unique. This is what our process has been all along,” said Gill.
An outside prosecutor will take over the case to avoid any possible conflict of interest.