COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah (ABC4 News) – Police and protestors collided in the streets of Cottonwood Heights Sunday evening, and among those in the crowd, was a Cottonwood Heights councilwoman who allegedly said an officer punched her in the throat, but police said that’s not what happened.
“That is what last night was – to highlight that this does happen in your neighborhood,” said Darlene McDonald, a speaker at a ‘March for Justice’ rally Sunday. “Zane James lived in Cottonwood Heights…It happened on your streets. You are not exempt from what’s happening around the world. Become aware of what’s happening.”
What started as a peaceful rally to remember the life of then, 19-year-old Zane James – who was shot and killed by Cottonwood Heights police in 2018 – turned violent as Cottonwood Heights police asked protestors to stay on the sidewalk to not block traffic.
“As we started walking to where Mr. James was shot and killed, we were blocked by the Cottonwood Heights police,” McDonald said. “After we told them we were not leaving, it did get rowdy. They told us to walk on the sidewalk. We complied. We got on the sidewalk.”
“The ones that wanted to remain in the road and they wanted a confrontation with law enforcement,” said Lt. Dan Bartlett, a Cottonwood Heights public information officer.
“They [police] came out and confronted the protestors and said that by law they needed to be on the sidewalk,” said Tali Bruce, a councilwoman in District Three. “The protestors explained that when the group is too large to occupy the sidewalk, it is legal for them to be in the street, provided they are moving.”
As tension rose between protestors and police, Bruce said she was recording on Facebook Live.
Bruce said she saw police tase a person at the top of a driveway. When she tried to get closer, she said an officer told her she needed to be on the sidewalk, but she said she already was.
“And then he straight-arm punched me in the throat with an open hand,” Bruce said. “I was shocked. I was so taken aback. I never thought in a million years thought my own CHPD would punch me in the throat.”
After reviewing Bruce’s video, Lt. Bartlett, said he does not believe that’s what happened.
“I saw him go like this, and say, ‘Get back’, multiple times, but that’s all I saw,” Bartlett said. “I didn’t see him wind up and punch her in the throat. And this is on her video, I haven’t even seen ours yet.”
Bartlett tells ABC4 News officers did try to negotiate with protestors to get them off of the streets. He said when they did not comply, officers went in to arrest those not following command.
“Well, they went hands on to make arrests and officers started getting hit, punched, tackled, choked and so they reacted to that,” Bartlett said.
Force was used, and – from what Bartlett saw and is reviewing in video footage – he believes it was justified.
“We tased a couple of people, a baton was used, and some pepper spray was used,” Bartlett said.
Thinking back to Sunday evening’s protest, Bruce said she’s devastated for her city and country, which she believes is divided.
“I’m alarmed at how many people are willing to sacrifice their freedoms for some sense of peace,” Bruce said. “I’m alarmed at how many people would want protestors who are peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to be heard, to be injured, to be brutalized.”
Issues between councilmembers and the police department are not new to the city. Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robby Russo is currently suing the city and the council.
In regards to Sunday’s civil unrest, Cottonwood Heights released a statement saying they support the First Amendment right of peaceful protest; however, the City will not tolerate violence, destruction of property, or blocking of roadways.
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