Utah protesters, accused of defacing government building, could get life in prison

Demonstrators face gang-enhancement charges after a district attorney's office building was targeted

In this July 10, 2020, file photo, District Attorney Sim Gill inspects the damage to the district attorney’s office in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Utah protesters could face up to life in prison should they be found liable for vandalizing a government building in the state’s capital city.

Madalena McNeil, one of the protesters facing felony criminal mischief charges, has been accused of playing a central role in the defacement of the Salt Lake City district attorney’s building during a protest against police brutality last month, the Associated Press reports.

The protest was in response to the district attorney’s declining to bring charges against city police officers involved in the shooting death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajalas, an armed man who was fleeing law enforcement, according to Desert News. The protest also came in the wake of a string of high-profile police killings of unarmed Black citizens.

Demonstrators are being tried for breaking windows and splashing red paint on the building on July 9. Many are criticizing the potential punishment for being too harsh.

READ MORE: University of Utah suspends football coach for texting a racial slur

McNeil is alleged to have purchased red paint at a Home Depot prior to the rally.

Madalena McNeil poses for photographs Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

McNeil and other protesters are being charged for tossing red paint onto the defense attorney’s building and breaking windows. In addition, the building was covered with signs that read: “Justice For Bernardo.”

The acts caused thousands of dollars in damage, prosecutors claim.

The felony criminal mischief charges have an increased penalty because they carry a gang enhancement, which comes from a 1990s-era law that critics question on the basis of criminal justice reform and minority communities.

The protesters are also accused of enticing a riot. Therefore, McNeil and others could face a life sentence if convicted.

In justifying the charges, prosecutors said the protesters worked together to damage the building.

READ MORE: LA district attorney’s husband charged after pointing gun at protesters

“This is so far beyond just the enforcement of the law, it feels retaliatory,” McNeil said. The state also alleges that McNeil yelled at and shifted her weight as if to slam into police during the demonstration in July.

In this July 9, 2020, file photo, protesters decrying the police shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal painted and marked the district attorney’s office in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

“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.

The Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City is reported to believe the charges are too extreme, while a conservative county prosecutor thinks the vandalism went too far.

Sim Gill, the district attorney of Salt Lake City, stated that he doesn’t think those facing the charges are likely to be sentenced to jail. If convicted of the crimes as filed with the court, the suspects will likely serve at least five years in prison, the AP reports.

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

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