SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah judge has declined to pause the criminal cases for protesters who say Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill ignored ethical rules when he charged them with splashing red paint and breaking windows at his own office building.
Defense attorney Jesse Nix wants the charges put on hold while a potential ethics investigation plays out, but 3rd District Judge Richard Mrazik said Wednesday it’s not certain that any probe will actually happen. The Utah Office of Professional Conduct, which investigates allegations of ethics violations against lawyers, does not disclose when it launches a review.
After Gill announced on July 9 that two Salt Lake police officers were legally justified in the fatal shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal, protesters took to the street in front of his office. Some poured red paint on and around the building and broke large windows before clashing with officers, police said, estimating the cost of damage at up to $200,000.
Gill’s office charged nine demonstrators, with most facing first-degree felony counts under gang enhancements. He later handed off the case to an outside prosecutor amid criticism that the hefty charges sent a message that those protesting police brutality will face up to life in prison.
Gill has defended his decisions as appropriate, saying he outsourced the case after filing the charges in order to be cautious and avoid a conflict of interest. He has emphasized that no one would go to prison for life and said he filed the charges to address unlawful behavior, rather than to suppress protesters.
Mrazik on Wednesday rejected Nix’s motion to stay the case and another to place a gag order on Gill, saying he doesn’t believe he could restrict Gill’s public statements now that Gill has handed the case off to an outside attorney.
The new prosecutor, retired Judge Dane Nolan, downgraded the charges in August, reducing most from first-degree felonies to third-degree felonies and misdemeanors.
Nolan said Wednesday he believes it would have been a better approach for Gill to not participate in the charging decisions, but said that doesn’t mean Gill violated any ethical standards for attorneys.
Wednesday’s hearing was held over video from Summit County. Third District Judge Mark Kouris transferred the cases there in August, writing in an order that the protest at Gill’s office, which is next door to the Salt Lake courthouse, affected judges there in some way.
The demonstrators are Madalena Rose McNeil, Richard Lovell Davis, Madison Tayt Alleman, Michelle Claire Mower, Hurija Mustafic, Marvin Buck Oliveros, Viviane Turman, Sofia Linda Alcala and Emmanuel Alan Hill. They have not yet entered pleas to charges including criminal mischief and rioting, third-degree felonies. Police said Mower and Mustafic also kicked officers.
The group has a scheduling conference in court next week.