Family and friends of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal painted the street red in protest in front of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building in Salt Lake City on June 27, 2020. Some protesters reached plea deals on Tuesday. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — Four protesters involved in splashing red paint at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building last year agreed Tuesday to pay about $8,400 each for the damage, part of a plea deal that spares them jail time.
The demonstrators originally faced potential prison time after the office charged them last year with first-degree felony counts of criminal mischief under a gang enhancement. On Tuesday, they entered pleas in abeyance to reduced counts of criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor, that will be dismissed if they keep up with payments to chip away at restitution and avoid any new charges.
The four are among nine charged in connection with the protest. All but one have resolved their cases.
Madalena Rose McNeil admitted Tuesday to buying the paint in a hearing held over video from Summit County’s 3rd District Court, while Marvin Buck Oliveros pleaded guilty based on his role of helping to transport it. Madison Tayt Alleman admitted to spilling the color that demonstrators said symbolized the blood on District Attorney Gill’s hands after he declined to file criminal charges against officers in the shooting death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal.
Viviane Turman agreed she caused somewhere between $500 and $1,500 in damage.
Each responded “guilty” when Judge Richard Mrazik asked for their pleas, and each agreed to pay $8,442. McNeil sported one of several T-shirts made during the summer of protests against police brutality that reads: “Sim Gill: There’s blood on your hands.”
Dozens of supporters logged in to the online court hearing Tuesday, and the demonstrators are hoping to tap into that network for help chipping away at restitution payments. Defense attorney Jesse Nix noted an online fundraising page seeks to help them cover the costs.
Nix said after the hearing it’s unfair that only a small number of protesters were prosecuted.
“That’s why our clients are asking the community and anyone who was at that protest to donate money and all that money’s gonna go toward this court restitution cleanup cost,” he said.
The damage amounted to an estimated $200,000, court documents say, and insurance covers half. Window repairs cost about $15,500, and the paint cleanup the remainder.
Attorneys arrived at the roughly $8,400 restitution payments after reviewing surveillance footage and finding 10 or so people were involved in splashing the paint, although not all were identified and prosecuted.
Last year, following criticism that the first-degree felony charges sought to punish the protesters for their message and that Gill had a conflict of interest as the victim of the crime, Gill’s office handed off the case to an outside prosecutor, Dane Nolan.
Nolan declined comment Tuesday except to say he’s had full autonomy in handling the cases.
A retired judge, Nolan “saw this case for what it was: a misdemeanor property damage case,” Nix said. Nolan downgraded the charges in August, reducing most from first-degree felonies to third-degree felonies and misdemeanors. The charges were further dropped for those who entered pleas Tuesday.
Gill told reporters last year he outsourced the case after filing the charges in order to be cautious and avoid a conflict of interest. He said that no one would go to prison for life and the charges reflected an attempt to address unlawful behavior, rather than to suppress protesters.
Third District Judge Mark Kouris transferred the cases outside Salt Lake County, noting that the protest at Gill’s office, which is next door to the Salt Lake courthouse, affected judges there in some way.
Hurija Mustafic wasn’t involved in the damage but was accused of kicking two officers and grabbing a baton and shield. She entered pleas in abeyance to two counts of assault against a police officer, a class A misdemeanor, in April, and agreed to pay a $300 fine, do 24 hours of community service and write a letter to the two officers.
Emanuel Alan Hill pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor, admitting he used a metal pole to break windows, causing damage between $1,500 and $5,000.
Sofia Alcala and Michelle Claire Mower both entered pleas in abeyance to reduced counts of criminal mischief, a class A misdemeanor, and disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor.
Richard Lovell Davis, allegedly linked to the protest by his cellphone data, is charged with a second-degree felony count of criminal mischief. He returns to court for arraignment in August.