Black Lives Matter Protesters Face Potential Life Sentence for Charges in Utah

August 7, 2020 Updated: August 7, 2020

Black Lives Matter demonstrators could face potentially life imprisonment if they are convicted of vandalizing District Attorney Sim Gill’s office in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Madalena Rose McNeil, 28; Marvin Oliveros, 39; and Richard Lovell Davis, 31, were charged Tuesday with felony criminal mischief and rioting, which is a third-degree felony, according to officials, as reported by KSL.

The criminal mischief charge, a first-degree felony, carries a gang attribute. It makes each charge punishable with a sentence of at least five years and up to life in prison, the report noted, citing Utah’s criminal code.

The three were involved in demonstrations following the death of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, a Democrat, said in a statement that she has no jurisdiction over the state’s criminal justice system or laws.

“If a crime is committed, there should be a consequence, but that consequence needs to be proportioned to the crime itself,” she said in a Twitter post. “And in this case, where we’re seeing the potential for an individual to spend a lifetime in prison for buying paint, that is too extreme. I don’t agree with the extent and the potential of these charges and I hope that the criminal justice system won’t take it that far.”

Police in Salt Lake City said that a group of demonstrators “ultimately broke five windows” at the district attorney’s office “and painted the roadway and building with red paint causing damage estimated to be between $100,000 and $200,000,” according to a news release.

But Gill defended the elevated charges and downplayed the possibility they will receive life sentences. “I don’t think anyone is going to be going to prison on this,” Gill told The Associated Press this week.

AP noted that criminal cases often end with plea deals to lesser charges.

“There’s some people who want to engage in protest, but they want to be absolved of any behavior,” Gill, a Democrat, told AP. “This is not about protest, this is about people who are engaging in criminal conduct.”

More than 30 people have been charged with various crimes in Salt Lake County amid a U.S.-wide wave of protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We have to have some agreement of what constitutes protected First Amendment speech,” Gill told the news agency. “When you cross that threshold, should you be held accountable or not?”