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Rioters Could Face Life In Prison After Gang Enhancements Get Added To Rioting Charges

Salt Lake City, UT – Several Black Lives Matter protesters are facing life in prison for spray painting and smashing windows at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office during violent protests.

The charges of felony criminal mischief with a gang enhancement were announced on Aug. 5, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors said the gang enhancement was justified because protesters worked as a team to cause thousands of dollars in damage.

Regardless of the charges, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the Associated Press that the protesters were unlikely to serve any prison time.

The charge carries a minimum five years sentence but Gill said most criminal cases end with plea deals to lesser charges.

“I don’t think anyone is going to be going to prison on this,” he said.

Gill, a Democrat, has participated in Black Lives Matter protests and previously declined to charge protesters who violated curfew, the Associated Press reported.

But he wasn’t willing to excuse the vandalism completely, either, and said “there’s some people who want to engage in protest, but they want to be absolved of any behavior.”

“This is not about protest, this is about people who are engaging in criminal conduct,” Gill explained.

Madalena McNeil, one of the protesters facing a possible sentence of life in prison on criminal mischief and riot charges, complained the gang enhancement was unfair, the Associated Press reported.

“This is so far beyond just the enforcement of the law, it feels retaliatory,” McNeil said.

Police charging documents said McNeil bought red paint at the Home Depot on July 9 ahead of the demonstration, the Associated Press reported.

“It’s really frustrating and scary … I just feel so much concern for what this means for the right to protest in general,” she said.

McNeil tweeted on Aug. 6, the day after the charges were announced, that she had lost her job at a non-profit after her arrest and that all of the defendants had to post $50,000 bail to get released, the Associated Press reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Utah called the gang enhancements to the charges troubling and said it was especially problematic when levied against protesters of color.

“You are calling participants in a protest gang members,” ACLU attorney Jason Groth told the Associated Press.

Defense attorney Brent Huff, who is representing co-defendant Madison Alleman, said that the charges were inappropriate for the crime.

“This is the highest degree felony. This is usually reserved for murders and rapists,” Huff complained.

Jesse Nix, the lawyer representing arrested protester Viviane Turman, questioned the ethics of Gill charging rioters who had vandalized his own office, the Associated Press reported.

“No one should get life in prison for putting paint on a building,” Nix said.

Gill countered that he had handled the initial charges because of staffing problems due to the coronavirus pandemic, but said that someone else would handle the prosecution of the case, the Associated Press reported.

More than 30 people have been charged in Salt Lake County since the riots surrounding the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police began in the end of May.

First-degree felony charges were also levied against rioters who were arrested for flipping police cars and setting them on fire on May 30, the Associated Press reported.

Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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Written by Sandy Malone

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