SALT LAKE CITY — As tensions between city officials and those upset with the shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal escalate, the governor extended his state of emergency declaration Friday and several city officials are taking precautions after receiving “credible threats” of being harmed or killed, police confirmed Friday.
Several people — including some police officers, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill — have received “direct threats” and are “taking extensive precautions,” Salt Lake police spokeswoman Christina Judd told the Deseret News on Friday.
Some of those precautions include around-the-clock protection, she said.
“My family is taking necessary precautions to be safe and as the mayor, I’m focused on the safety of our entire city as this plays out,” Mendenhall said.
Meanwhile, the damage caused by rioters to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building Thursday night is now estimated to be as high as $200,000, police announced Friday.
Five large windows were broken at the building, 35 E. 500 South, while red paint was spread over large portions of the building and in areas in front of the structure.
Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown called the damage “significant.”
Because of the vandalism, Gov. Gary Herbert, who had already declared a state of emergency due to “civil unrest” and closed the state Capitol to the public, extended that order to include the district attorney’s office building by Friday afternoon. The order runs through Wednesday.
Gill surveyed the damage to his office Friday morning.
“It was an unlawful and irresponsible disregard for civic dialogue and community collaboration. The building will be repaired, our work will continue. The vandalism of a few won’t discourage or distract us from continuing our work in the community as we seek improvement, reform, understanding and respect throughout our community,” Gill’s office said in a prepared statement Friday.
“As we always have, we encourage robust civic dialogue. We celebrate free speech and honor the right to dissent without fear of reprisal or retribution. Mutually respectful disagreement enriches every discussion. Last night wasn’t that.
“We urge the community not to let the misguided and unfortunate actions of a few to set back the progress we’ve seen in the last several weeks. Never before have we been blessed to hear the kinds of dialogue we now hear. We truly believe those who acted out violently last night do not speak the hearts and minds of so many in the community who have worked too hard for too long to have their causes overshadowed by the regressive measures of so few.“
Brown agreed that while there have been weeks of peaceful protests, “last night was something different.
“I was really saddened with what happened. It was really discouraging,” he said. “There was substantial vandalism and violence.”
Because of that, Brown said starting Friday night, his department will be taking a harder stance against protesters. Vandalism of any type, violence and protesters using their cars to block roads will no longer be tolerated.
“Tonight, we’ve shifted gears,” he said late Friday afternoon.
At least one police officer was taken to the hospital to be treated for what was described as a “significant leg injury” on Thursday, and four protesters were arrested after Brown declared that the protesters were engaged in an “unlawful assembly” after they began vandalizing the district attorney’s office.
Brown said while the city in the past has held the public’s First Amendment right to protest as almost sacred. “We expect it to be peaceful. It’s not a license to come down and do violence and vandalism.”
Between 100 and 200 protesters rallied Thursday. It was organized mainly by the groups Justice for Bernardo and PSL Salt Lake — Party for Socialism and Liberation. The groups were protesting Gill’s finding that two Salt Lake police officers were legally justified in using deadly force when they shot and killed an armed Palacios.
The protest was contentious from the start — the protest itself was named “(Expletive) your ruling Sim Gill” on social media — as protesters immediately used their vehicles to block 500 South between State and Main.
Organizers used a megaphone to lead the crowd in chants “(Expletive) you, Sim Gill” and “Blood is on your hands” while others painted the street in front of the district attorney’s building red and spilled red paint on the stairs leading up to the front doors and placed red handprints on the marquee in front of the building.
But when the group began to march away from the building, several people began breaking windows. That’s when Salt Lake police in riot gear and a Department of Public Safety helicopter moved in.
Among those arrested was Sofia Alcala, 18, for investigation of felony criminal mischief. She could be seen Thursday with a megaphone in front of the office prompting many of the chants.
She was among at least 12 others who painted the pavement “with approximately 32 gallons of red paint,” according to a police booking affidavit. Police said they are familiar with Alcala from previous incidents.
Mercedes McKinley, 32, was arrested for investigation of assault on a police officer and failing to disperse after she used pepper spray on officers, a police affidavit states.
Emanuel Hill, 21, was arrested for investigation of rioting and criminal mischief for allegedly “using a metal pole ... to break multiple windows” at the district attorney’s office, another affidavit says. “Emanuel has been involved in recent demonstrations in SLC and is well known to multiple officers.”
Ryan Christopher Moore, 39, was arrested for investigation of failing to disperse after refusing to obey a police command to leave the area and grabbing onto a signpost he had to be pulled away from, according to another affidavit.
On its Facebook page, the PSL group stated, “We know that direct agitation is necessary against a system that enables and protects killer cops!”
Thursday night, Nathan Evershed, who lost to Gill in the last election and admits that he is “no fan of Sim Gill,” tweeted support for Gill’s decision on the Palacios shooting. In a series of several tweets, he said, in part:
“With the law and facts before him, Mr. Gill had no other choice but to call the shootings justified, notwithstanding the initial quick reactions from pundits, politicians and protesters. ... How many of these protesters saw the press conference? I’m guessing zero. ... How many of these protesters read the 34-page legal analysis? For sure zero. Those things do not matter to them. Mobs don’t like context. Mobs don’t like it when their demands aren’t met,” Evershed wrote.
“I have friends that work in this building and they do a great public service. I worked there for years myself. I feel bad that they now have to face this outrage. This is wrong. So wrong. It’s pure intimidation and attempted coercion. This shouldn’t be placated or excused. It’s vandalism and it’s criminal. It’s not hard — if you protest, do it peacefully. You know what should happen? Based on law, evidence and reason, people should be charged.”
During Thursday’s protest, rumors that have been spread on social media — rumors that have already been proven false — about who was involved and what police did to Palacios, were brought up yet again by protest organizers.
During Gill’s press conference Thursday, he showed autopsy photos of Palacios’ hands to dispel rumors that his fingers had been cut off by police. Likewise, new body camera video was released to show that an officer who has been named on social media as one of the shooters never fired a shot. Furthermore, police have confirmed that that officer has the same last name as another officer who has been accused on social media, but who actually wasn't even involved with the Palacios indent at all.
“I don’t know what more we can do to stop those rumors from swirling around,” a discouraged Brown said. “Still, it’s not an excuse for violence and vandalism. It’s unacceptable.”
Also Friday, the Salt Lake City Police Department Citizens Advisory Board, a board that advises Brown and the police department, issued a public letter calling Gill’s decision “devastating for us as individuals and as a board.”
“We believe that shooting Bernardo in excess of 30 times as he was running away from officers was an egregious misuse of force. These are not acceptable actions representative of the manner of policing we support and want to continue seeing implemented in our community,” the board said.
The advisory board is not the same as the Salt Lake City Police Civilian Review Board, which will now decide whether the officers involved in the Palacios shooting acted within department policy.
The mayor has requested that the review be expedited and finished “by the middle of next week. I also ask for the public’s patience with these processes that require time and thoughtfulness in order to render due process, which these officers are entitled to under the law.”