Salt Lake City Police have finished looking into an alleged hate crime committed downtown last weekend and recommended charges for Class B assault and Class A brandishing of a weapon.
“The screening of the charges is basically saying, ‘This is what our fact-finding came up with, and this is what could be actually charged,’” Salt Lake City Police Detective Greg Wilking told City Weekly Friday morning. “But ultimately, whether or not that’s what gets charged, is up to the District Attorney’s office.”
A few hours later, the D.A.’s Office issued a news release charging 22-year-old Florida resident Carlo Alazo with one count of “threatening with or using a dangerous weapon in a fight or quarrel,” a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, and two counts of Class B misdemeanor assault, each of which carries a possible penalty of up to six months in jail.
Alazo is accused of punching Sal Trejo on Main Street between 300 and 400 South around 1:45 a.m. Sunday. In Trejo’s telling, the suspect made homophobic and lewd remarks about him and his friends before Trejo filmed the assault. In the video, the suspect asks Trejo, “Are you gay though?” Trejo says he is, to which the man replies, “Oh, then you’re gay?” As Trejo answers, the man punches him.
“I think he must have perceived us as weak,” Trejo previously told City Weekly. “He decided to come for us.”
Trejo said he and his friends formed a wall after the punch and led the intoxicated man away from the scene. The man reportedly pulled a knife before getting into his car and driving off.
Reached by phone, Gill says his office cannot seek hate crimes-related enhancements to Alazo’s charges because the law is functionally useless. To meet the legal burden, Gill says prosecutors would have to show an assault suspect’s intent was to deny the victim a constitutionally protected right.
“That’s a near impossible standard for us to meet,” Gill says, calling the statute “an empty gesture.”
Gill was among the people who spoke at the Capitol on Thursday in favor of a proposal that would give the state’s hate crimes statute some teeth. If passed, the bill would allow prosecutors to seek longer sentences for people who target a victim because of their race, sexual orientation or religion. The bill unanimously passed through the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee.
Gill says that the utility of Utah’s current hate crimes statute “speaks for itself” because prosecutors have not attained a conviction for a hate crime in 20 years. “The obstacles that are put in place make it unusable,” Gill explains, which is problematic because,“we know there have been hundreds if not thousands of hate crimes that have occurred in the last 20 years in the state of Utah.
“The end result,” Gill says of the current law, “is it really is an injustice when it comes to hate crime in the state of Utah.”
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