SALT LAKE CITY — Protesters denouncing the police shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal and the announcement that the officers who shot him were legally justified took to the streets Thursday night, spreading red paint as a symbol of bloodshed.
As the night went on, the approximately 200 protesters became more aggressive, breaking windows at Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s office and, according to a tweet from Salt Lake police, spraying officers with pepper spray. When demonstrators shattered the windows, police announced the gathering was now unlawful and began asking protesters to disperse.
Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown on Twitter said, “It was my sincere hope that the protest tonight would remain peaceful as it has night after night,” but because it hadn’t, the event was declared an unlawful assembly.
“We are willing to allow some vandalism but then they returned and started to breach windows,” Brown told KSL-TV. “We just cannot allow that to happen.”
While no damage was done to the Capitol, because it was vandalized by protesters earlier this year Gov. Gary Herbert announced a state of emergency shortly after the protest escalated, closing the building and grounds until July 13.
Protesters gathered together in a line across 500 South as police formed up at both ends of the block to disperse the crowd. They then turned toward the police and marched forward with their arms linked together, chanting “We are not afraid.”
The group stopped short of the police line and continued to chant. A few protesters got close to police and shouted in their faces. Officers then advanced on the line and clashed with protesters, hitting them with batons and pushing them with shields.
Protesters pushed back and threw water bottles and various trash at the officers in riot gear while trying to remain grouped up. After another clash, the protesters regrouped and moved away from the area, heading south on State Street.
The protesters eventually circled back around to 500 South and began to slowly disperse as police circled them and ordered them to leave the area.
Salt Lake police later tweeted that one officer was in a local hospital with injuries and two people had been arrested.
The protesters gathered outside Gill’s office hours after he announced he had determined officers who killed Palacios were legally justified in using deadly force. No charges will be filed against Salt Lake police officers Neil Iversen and Kevin Fortuna.
As organizers accused Gill of having Palacios’ blood on his hands, protesters used vehicles to block traffic on 500 South, as well as State Street and Main Street, and painted the street outside Gill’s office red alongside the message “Too much blood.” They also poured red paint on the steps leading into the building, and smeared red handprints on pillars and windows on the exterior of the building.
Police set up their own barricades down the street from protesters’ blockades in order to warn drivers away, but initially did not approach the group.
As they have done almost nightly for the past few weeks, demonstrators again hung posters on the outside of Gill’s office and took up well-known chants like “No justice, no peace,” and “Whose streets? Our streets.”
Some protesters also converged on media with black umbrellas in an attempt to block their view, or aggressively confronted reporters. They claimed images from news reports of protests have led to arrests.
After the demonstration outside Gill’s office, the protesters marched through the nearby streets, stopping at the intersection of 400 South and State Street to kneel in silence before continuing, eventually returning to the district attorney’s office.
Gill said in a lengthy news conference Thursday that he reached his decision after thoroughly reviewing all the evidence presented to him, including body camera footage, newly released surveillance footage and Palacios’ autopsy report.
Police shot at Palacios 34 times, striking him at least 12 times, as he ran away from them after they responded to reports of a man threatening people with a gun in the early morning hours of May 23.
When Palacios ran from them, police ordered him 17 times to stop and drop the weapon he was holding. Palacios tripped and fell, then slipped and fell again as he tried to keep running, each time dropping and grabbing his weapon, according to video Gill showed Thursday.
Police shot Palacios as he tried to get up a third time, just after another officer can be heard yelling to stun him with a Taser.
Palacios’ determination to keep hold of his gun led the officers to believe he was an imminent threat, Gill said.
Palacios’ death and the death of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis has led to near daily protests around the state from friends, family members and activists demanding justice for both men and calling for police reform.
Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter in Utah, issued a prepared statement following Gill’s decision.
“Sim Gill continuously denies justice to the families of police brutality victims. Anyone who truly believes in the criminal justice system knows that people accused of crimes deserve to have their day in court. Black Lives Matter Utah will continue to work for a system that will not allow police to shoot fleeing suspects in the back. There is no honor in what the police did. Officers should work to preserve life, de-escalate situations and make sure that people survive interactions with police. We would say that we are disappointed in Sim’s decision, but we have come to expect nothing but injustice from Sim,” Scott said.
Contributing: Pat Reavy
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly reported that George Floyd was shot by police. He died after police kneeled on his neck while taking him into custody.