SALT LAKE CITY — A man seen in a viral video hitting another man on a Salt Lake sidewalk after asking if he is gay was charged Friday with misdemeanor assault.
But Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he can't charge the incident as a hate crime. "We don’t have a hate crimes statute in Utah that is usable by prosecutors," he said.
Carlo Alazo, 22, of Tampa, Florida, was charged in 3rd District Court with threatening to use a dangerous weapon during a fight, a class A misdemeanor, and two counts of assault, a class B misdemeanor.
Early Sunday, Alazo was talking on his phone while walking along Main Street near 341 South. He could be heard making derogatory comments toward another group near him that included Sal Trejo, said Gill.
Others with Trejo's group overheard Alazo make "derogatory and vulgar" comments about "standing by a gay guy," as well as a comment about Trejo's jacket, according to charging documents.
"Trejo attempted to correct Alazo's description of Trejo's coat pattern, which caused Alazo to become more belligerent," the charges state.
As Alazo allegedly continued to call the group derogatory names, Trejo took out his cellphone and began recording. An eight-second clip of that recording was posted Sunday on social media and it quickly went viral, angering many and particularly members of the LGBTQ community.
The video starts with Alazo asking him, "Are you gay, though?"
"Oh, I am," Trejo replies.
"Oh, then you're gay," Alazo repeats.
After saying that, Alazo is seen on the video throwing a punch at Trejo. The cellphone shakes as others who witnessed the incident can be heard saying, "Are you (expletive) kidding me?"
According to charging documents, Alazo "slapped the phone out of (Trejo's) hand using an open palm, hitting Trejo's arm in the process."
Alazo then pushed a woman who was with Trejo and pulled out a butterfly knife but dropped it after pointing the blade at Trejo, the charges state. Alazo picked it up, ran to his car and drove off, Gill said.
On Monday, after the video had been widely shared, Alazo contacted police and was said to be "cooperating fully," according to Salt Lake police.
The notion that state prosecutors don't have a usable hate crimes law is an issue that Gill has raised before. In December, Gill said he could not charge as a hate crime a man accused of attacking three Hispanic men at a Salt Lake tire store simply because they are from Mexico. That same man, Alan D. Covington, 50, was charged this week with federal hate crimes for the same incident.
On Utah's Capitol Hill this week, Gill reiterated his frustration to the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee about Utah not having a law that "appropriately recognizes the kind of harm" hate crimes can cause, as well as the "fear that it sends through these different communities."
"This has been long overdue," Gill said. "And for those communities that have been personally impacted, this is not an academic exercise. This is something real."
The time for lawmakers to take action and protect Utahns from hate crimes is long overdue.
Gill declined to speculate if the case against Alazo would qualify as a hate crime under a bill currently being debated by Utah lawmakers.
Trejo released a statement Friday saying he's "not shocked" that his case isn't being treated as a hate crime because of the way Utah laws are written.
"I am, however, devastated for all of the members of Utah's marginalized communities who will see the news. I'm sure their hearts will break like mine has. My call to all Utah residents is to reach out to their lawmakers and ask them to vote yes on SB103," he said. "The time for lawmakers to take action and protect Utahns from hate crimes is long overdue."