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Law Enforcement On The Lookout For Most Destructive Protesters

Photo of a crowd of people standing in front of a car turned upside down and on fire
Courtesy of Sarah Ramirez
Several law enforcement agencies in Utah, including the FBI, are looking for people involved with flipping and burning a police car during a protest Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Nearly 60 people have been arrested following protests over the past few days in Salt Lake City against police brutality and racial injustice. The majority, 41 came on Saturday — the most destructive event — though most were charged for failing to disperse. On Monday, 18 more were arrested, including two juveniles. 

But federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are still on the lookout for the people who caused the most damage, including several who flipped and burned a police car.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said he couldn’t provide cost estimates yet of the total damage to police property, but about 12 cars had been damaged. At least one — worth about $40,000 — was totaled. Damage to the Capitol too will cost another $40,000, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Perhaps the most notorious incident came on Saturday, when Brandon McCormick drove his car into a crowd and emerged with a hunting bow. 

“I am an American, all lives matter!” McCormick shouted as he pointed the bow towards a crowd of demonstrators, who then rushed in and attacked him. 

Despite multiple videos on social media and calls for McCormick’s arrest, Brown said officers — who were about 10 feet away when the incident began — need more evidence to bolster the case against him. 

“We couldn't see the interaction between [McCormick] and that crowd,” he said. “We know he fired an arrow now because we've seen the video. We need somebody that was a victim and a witness to step forward and say ‘I was the guy he shot at.’”

Brown said the department has filed assault charges with the Salt Lake City District Attorney’s office, but a witness would strengthen the case. 

As for the protestors who set a squad car ablaze, officers are asking the public for more information as well. Unlike with McCormick’s case, however, they’ve already received numerous tips. 

On Wednesday, officials from five federal, state and local law enforcement agencies announced they had arrested Jackson Patton in connection with the incident. He’s facing federal arson charges and a minimum of five years in prison. Two others involved have turned themselves in.

“We certainly recognize and support the right to assemble and protest,” said John Huber, U.S. Attorney for Utah. “But when outlaws and extremists hijack those events and violate federal law, they will find zero tolerance from me.”

SLCPD is continuing the search for others too, soliciting tips on Twitter. 

But Lex Scott with the Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter said hunting those people down will only make matters worse. Instead, she said, officers should focus on reforming their departments and looking at why there are protests in the first place. 

“They need to look within themselves and realize that there is a systematic problem,” Scott said. “This country is sick of police brutality. This country is sick of police not being held accountable for their actions.”

Scott said Utah has seen several incidents of unnecessary police force where the officers involved weren’t properly disciplined, pointing, for example, to the killing of Dillon Taylor in 2014. 

According to data from the research and advocacy group Mapping Police Violence, 82 people have been killed by police in Utah between 2013 and 2019. Of those, about 10% were African-Americans, even though they only make up about 1% of the state’s population

While SLCPD and Mayor Erin Mendenhall have recently called on residents to file complaints over any inappropriate uses of police force they may have seen, Scott said she isn’t convinced law enforcement will take them seriously. 

“I don't want to dismiss them when they come out and say we want changes and we're making these changes,” she said. ”But we've filed too many complaints and seen zero action from the police department.” 

Scott said she won’t be convinced they’re making a concerted effort until they start confronting officers accused of misusing force. She’s also called for national police reform, including requiring democratically elected, independent civilian review boards to investigate police departments nationwide. 

Brown agreed national standards could be a good idea, especially with over 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country which each have unique policies and procedures. 

“It's going to take leadership and it's going to take some work, but it all starts with conversation,” he said.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

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