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Utah Sen. Derek Kitchen accused of helping pay for paint used by protesters

Legislator under investigation for $10 ‘paint’ donation says he doesn’t condone vandalism

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, speaks during a signing ceremony for the hate crime bill SB103 in the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Kitchen is accused of helping pay for paint used by protesters to vandalize the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building.
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, speaks during a signing ceremony for the hate crime bill SB103 in the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Kitchen is accused of helping pay for paint used by protesters to vandalize the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake police are investigating whether a Utah state senator helped pay for red paint that was used to vandalize the street in front of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office by protesters calling for the officers who shot Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal to be charged.

Sen. Derek Kitchen made a $10 donation to Madalena McNeil on June 28, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in 3rd District Court.

“The word that was written in the note of the transaction was ‘paint.’ This was the day after the Justice for Bernardo group used a large amount of paint to deface the street in front of the district attorney’s office,” according to the warrant.

The affidavit only lists Kitchen’s name in the email address, Derek.Kitchen@gmail.com. However, it is the same email address listed in a letter issued by Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, on Aug. 3 with Utah State Senate letterhead, denouncing the Cottonwood Heights Police Department’s handling of protesters who were walking in a residential street to commemorate the birthday of Zane James, who was shot and killed by police in 2018.

It is also the same email address the former Salt Lake City councilman used when campaigning for the Senate.

Kitchen said in a statement Wednesday that his small contribution was to “support the cause of justice” in what he expected would be a peaceful rally.

“It is a matter of record that I support criminal justice reform. I love Salt Lake City and Utah, and I believe in progressive activism. In this instance I responded to a solicitation on social media for financial support for what I understood would be a peaceful rally for justice. I gave a small contribution to support the cause of justice, but I wasn’t involved in the planning or organization of the event,” Kitchen said.

“I did not attend the protest and have only seen press reports of what happened. I will always advocate for the constitutional right to peaceful protest but I don’t condone violence or vandalism,” he said.

When asked whether he knew his donation would be used to help pay for paint that was used to cover 500 South, Kitchen replied, “My contribution was made to support progressive activism for justice and criminal justice reform. It was not intended to facilitate vandalism and I have no personal knowledge about how my small contribution may have been used.”

Salt Lake police on Wednesday would only say that they are investigating money that was donated by several people to McNeil that detectives believe was used to buy red paint for protests on both June 27 and July 9.

A few protesters painted a section of the street in front of the district attorney’s office with red paint during the June 27 rally. The July 9 protest was the most violent and occurred on the same day District Attorney Sim Gill announced that the officers in the Palacios shooting were legally justified in using deadly force,

The front walk and other areas of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building in Salt Lake City is covered in red paint on Friday, July 10, 2020. The building suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damage when protesters broke out at least three windows and spread red paint over large portions of the building and area in front of the structure on Thursday.
The front walk and other areas of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office building in Salt Lake City is covered in red paint on Friday, July 10, 2020. The building suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damage when protesters broke out at least three windows and spread red paint over large portions of the building and area in front of the structure on Thursday.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The investigation into the paint donations was ongoing as of Wednesday.

Nine people have been charged in 3rd District Court in connection with the July 9 protest, most for either spreading red paint all around the entrance to the district attorney’s office building and onto 500 South or smashing several of the structure’s large windows causing approximately $200,000 in damage.

Gill recently announced that former 3rd District Judge Dane Nolan, who retired in 2017, was chosen as a special prosecutor for the cases in order to avoid any conflict of interest Gill’s office might have. On Wednesday, the cases against the nine people charged in connection with the July 9 incident were moved to Summit County’s 3rd District Court.

According to an order issued by Presiding Judge Mark Kouris, because the district attorney’s office and the Matheson Courthouse are so close to each other, it “caused many judges housed in the Matheson Courthouse to be directly and/or indirectly affected by the recent protest. As a result, all cases arising from the protests on 9 July 2020 in front of the district attorney’s office ... will be reassigned outside Salt Lake County to Judge Rich Mrazik in Summit County.”

McNeil is charged with criminal mischief, a first-degree felony, and rioting, a third-degree felony. According to charging documents, McNeil purchased paint and paint supplies at Home Depot, 328 W. 2100 South, prior to the start of the July 9 protest.

“The items purchased included 12 buckets of paint, nine paint rollers and two paint roller poles for a total of $1,644.11,” according to the search warrant.

“This same organization had used paint rollers and painted the street in front of the district attorney’s office on June 27, 2020. The damage to the street cost the state of Utah $7,180.60 to cover the paint that was left by the group,” the warrant states.

Protesters decrying the police shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal painted and marked the district attorney’s office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 9, 2020.
Protesters decrying the police shooting of Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal painted and marked the district attorney’s office in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 9, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Salt Lake police detectives served a warrant on McNeil’s Venmo account and learned there were at least five donations made, most of them for $10 with the word “paint” written in the description, the affidavit states. Police then served warrants on those accounts to trace where the donations came from.

Gill, who is a close friend of Kitchen, said Wednesday he could not comment on the investigation as he has not yet had anything presented to his office. However, he said the district attorney's office supports law enforcement in their investigative efforts and if a decision is made to screen the case for potential criminal charges against Kitchen, he will ask someone else to make that determination to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

Kitchen gained a high profile in the state as a plaintiff in the federal court case that ended up overturning Utah’s same-sex marriage ban. He was elected to the Salt Lake City Council in 2015 and to the Utah Senate in 2018. He currently serves as the Senate’s minority caucus manager.