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Two years after a man protested the Utah Inland Port Authority, a jury found him guilty of disrupting a meeting

A photo of the entryway to the SLC Justice Court.
Salt Lake City Justice Court Facebook
Gary Mesker’s case was heard by a jury at the Salt Lake City Justice Court Monday.

It’s been two years since 72-year-old Gary Mesker protested the inland port at the Utah Capitol. He was there with Elders Rising, a group of older adults advocating for environmental justice.

Police testified that Mesker was linking arms with other protesters and resisted removal from the room.

Mesker was charged with disrupting a meeting — a Class B misdemeanor which could result in up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

He said he wasn’t surprised when the jury found him guilty. But he does think his case sends a message.

“To the people that may want to protest, it tells them that the government's going to overcharge you and punish you in the worst way they can,” Mesker said. “Just to get you not to protest.”

L. Monte Sleight, Mesker’s attorney, said he has represented dozens of people who have been charged at protests over the past two years. Most accept a plea deal.

He said the specific statute used to charge Mesker aims to silence people who disagree with the government.

“A law that says, ‘Don't come bother us, don't come interrupt our meetings.’ Who's protected by this law?” Sleight said. “It's a way for them to put a barrier between those in power and those without it.”

Mesker was sentenced to 16 hours of community service. Another person facing rioting charges from a different inland port protest had their trial postponed.

Corrected: November 5, 2021 at 5:23 PM MDT
This story has been updated with the correct spelling of attorney L. Monte Sleight's name.
Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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