rain
Saturday December 15th, 2018 7:33AM

Utah hate crime law under scrutiny after tire shop beating

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The recent beating of a young man and his father at their Salt Lake City tire shop by an attacker who told police he targeted them because they were Mexican is renewing criticism of the state's hate crime law, which one prosecutor is calling unusable.

Rather than protecting specific groups, the 1990s-era measure speaks generally about crimes that block people from freely exercising their constitutional rights.

"It's not worth the paper it's written on," said Salt Lake County Attorney District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat, said Wednesday. The hate crime statute hasn't been prosecuted for at least two decades, and ethnic and LGBT groups live in fear when attacks happen, he said.

Because the law doesn't apply to felony crimes, Gill's office couldn't use it to charge Alan Dale Covington, 50, with a hate crime, even though he told police that he attacked a father and son with a 3-foot metal pole because they were from Mexico, according to charging documents.

He told investigators the "Mexican Mafia" had been after him for years and that he went to Lopez Tires on Nov. 27 because "they all know each other," police said.

The Lopez family has said Covington shouted, "I'm here to kill a Mexican" before he started swinging the metal pole. Covington, who is African-American, doesn't have a listed attorney. He is homeless and had heroin in his system when he was arrested, prosecutors said.

He acknowledged to police that he didn't know the victims, Luis and Jose Lopez. Luis Lopez, 18, suffered serious head wounds after he tried to defend his father, who was hit in the shoulder as he ran away.

Covington has been charged with two counts of felony aggravated assault.

Local public officials from across the state have appealed to lawmakers to beef up punishments for hate crimes and add LGBT protections. Those efforts have died in recent years after the influential Mormon church weighed in by saying the proposal would upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights.

Utah state Sen. Daniel Thatcher, a Republican, said he plans to try again to strengthen the law to include more serious penalties next year, even though prospects are uncertain.

"Under Utah law ... we cannot acknowledge it was a hate crime. That, in my opinion, does a disservice to the family, it's a disservice to the entire Hispanic community, and it's a disservice to Utah as a whole," he said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined comment Wednesday about the incident or the state of hate crimes law.

Other lawmakers still have concerns about the measure. Sen. Todd Weiler, also a Republican, said the Lopez allegations are reprehensible and the current law is imperfect. Still, he's worried about singling out certain groups for special treatment or criminalizing people's thoughts or writings in cases where bias isn't as clear.

"They think that if the Legislature waves its magic wand, all the hate and racism goes away. It doesn't," he said.

All but five states in the U.S. have hate crime laws; Utah is one of 15 states that have such laws but don't cover anti-LGBT-crimes, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Luis Lopez's sister, Veronica Lopez, didn't return a phone call seeking an update about her brother's condition. But a GoFundMe page she created said that Luis Lopez is home recovering after having surgery to place a titanium plate in the right side of his "shattered" face. She said her father's arm and back are bruised, but better.

She said the family doesn't have any health insurance. So far, nearly $70,000 in donations have been made.

Luis Garza, director of the Utah immigrant rights group called Comunidades Unidas, said the beating of the Lopez was clearly a hate crime. His organization is already meeting with LGBT groups and others to advocate for a stronger law when the Legislature meets in January.

"Many times legislators turn a blind eye on things like this," Garza said. "We want to think that these things don't happen in our state, but they are happening."

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Sea reefs and sunsets: Living Coral is color of the year
The stuff of sea reefs and sunsets: Pantone picks Living Coral as its color of the year
5:31PM ( 8 minutes ago )
Trump odd man out as presidents assemble for Bush funeral
Trump odd man out as president and 'formers' assemble for Bush funeral
5:26PM ( 13 minutes ago )
Border Patrol agent charged with capital murder in Texas
A U.S. Border Patrol agent who confessed to killing four women and leaving their bodies on rural Texas roadsides has been indicted on a capital murder charge
5:20PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Carbon dioxide emissions see steep jump in 2018
Scientists say after several years of little growth, global emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide have experienced their largest jump in seven years
4:56PM ( 43 minutes ago )
Expectations low as Yemen's warring parties meet for talks
Yemen's warring parties will meet in Sweden this week for another attempt at talks aimed at halting their catastrophic 3-year-old war, but there are few incentives for major compromises, and the focus is likely to be on firming up a shaky de-escalation
4:50PM ( 50 minutes ago )
Wisconsin GOP votes to weaken Democrat who defeated Walker
Wisconsin Republicans vote to weaken Democrat who defeated Scott Walker
4:40PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Trump on the fringes of presidents' group at Bush's service
There were some uneasy moments among past presidents and President Donald Trump as they assembled to mourn George H.W. Bush
2:52PM ( 2 hours ago )
Memories of Bush humor brought smiles to sorrowful farewell
Memories of George H.W. Bush's underappreciated sense of humor drew laughter and brought smiles to the sorrowful mourning of the death of American's 41st president
2:49PM ( 2 hours ago )
Bush saluted with praise, humor, cannons at capital farewell
George H.W. Bush's life and public service are celebrated before the eyes of ex-presidents in Washington's final goodbye to the 41st president
2:39PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
The Latest: George W Bush says he called dad 'wonderful'
Former President George W. Bush says he told his father just before he died that he had been a "wonderful dad" and that he loved him
12:59PM ( 4 hours ago )
UK Parliament, PM May's govt face off in Brexit showdown
Britain's Brexit debate has become a bruising battle between lawmakers and Prime Minister Theresa May's government
12:49PM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: Simpson hails Bush for his humility
Former Sen. Alan Simpson has hailed his old friend George H.W. Bush as man of humility, a commodity the Wyoming Republican says is rare in the capital
12:45PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Sea reefs and sunsets: Living Coral is color of the year
The stuff of sea reefs and sunsets: Pantone picks Living Coral as its color of the year
5:31PM ( 9 minutes ago )
Trump odd man out as presidents assemble for Bush funeral
Trump odd man out as president and 'formers' assemble for Bush funeral
5:26PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Border Patrol agent charged with capital murder in Texas
A U.S. Border Patrol agent who confessed to killing four women and leaving their bodies on rural Texas roadsides has been indicted on a capital murder charge
5:20PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Macron scraps French fuel tax hike amid violent protests
French President Emmanuel Macron has scrapped a fuel tax rise amid fears of new violence from protesters
5:16PM ( 24 minutes ago )
The Latest: Mourners lining up in Houston for Bush's service
Mourners wanting to pay their respects to former President George H.W. Bush began lining up outside a Houston church hours before his visitation is due to start
5:11PM ( 29 minutes ago )