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SALT LAKE CITY — A man who allegedly attacked three Hispanic men at Salt Lake tire store because they are from Mexico faces federal hate crime charges, and the city's mayor is calling for tougher state laws to deal with those kinds of offenses.
A federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment against Alan D. Covington, 50, for allegedly hitting and trying to hit the men with a metal pole because he believed they were Mexican.
Covington, who is homeless, walked into Lopez Tires, 1621 S. Main, last November shouting that he wanted to "kill Mexicans" and then struck L.G.L. in the head with a metal pole, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. The indictment alleges that the attack against him included an attempt to kill.
Covington also struck J.L. with a metal pole and swung the pole at A.L. in an attempt to injure him, according to the indictment.
If convicted of the federal crimes, Covington faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
State prosecutors charged Covington with aggravated assault, possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and drug possession charges last December. A 3rd District judge ordered him to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine whether he is competent to go to trial. Covington is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail.
Salt Lake police sent the case to the FBI after the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office told investigators it couldn't pursue hate crimes charges against Covington based on current state law.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the attack "sowed fear into our community" and the police department "rightfully" reached out to the FBI after finishing its own investigation.
“It is time Utah adopt comprehensive hate crime legislation to give law enforcement and investigators the tools they need to prosecute these types of crime," she said.
Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown said his department would continue to work with other law enforcement agencies to "ensure justice is available to everyone in the capital city."
The department has also asked that an alleged hate crime be screened for charges following an incident caught on video involving a man who was allegedly hit by another man Sunday after he stated he was gay.
Utah lawmakers are considering a "victim targeting" law that would enhance penalties for offenders who commit a crime against another person based on a belief or perception about their ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.
Hate crimes bills have failed or not received hearings in the Legislature the past few years. A hearing on SB103 is scheduled for Thursday in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.
Veronica Lopez told the Deseret News last December that her brother Luis Gustavo Lopez, 18, and her father Jose Lopez, 51, were at work eating breakfast and getting ready to open their tire store for the day when Covington entered and asked if they were Mexican.
"I … hate Mexicans. Are you in the Mexican mafia? I'm here to kill a Mexican. I’m here to kill you guys,” Lopez said Covington told the group.
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Charging documents in state court say Covington went into the store saying, "I'm going to kill someone" before swinging a "four-sided metal pole."
Luis Lopez was not responsive and was bleeding from his face when emergency crews arrived. He was taken to a local hospital where during a three-hour surgery a metal plate was put in place of his shattered cheekbone, according to his sister. The plate was also used to hold his eyeball in place, Veronica Lopez said.
Jose Lopez received eight stitches and numerous bruises on his back from blocking the blows to his son, she said.
After he was arrested, Covington told Salt Lake police that "the Mexican mafia had been after him since 2008" and he went to the tire store because "all of them know each other," according to the state charges.
Veronica Lopez said in December she was told because of the way Utah laws are written that with two felonies being filed against Covington, a hate crime charge could not be filed.