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Judge rules to keep evidence from protest out of jury trial for man accused of assaulting police

Gabriel Pecoraro fights with police after police and marchers collided in the streets of Cottonwood Heights, Aug. 2, 2020. Thursday, a judge ruled to keep some evidence out of the trial of a man accused of assaulting police.

Gabriel Pecoraro fights with police after police and marchers collided in the streets of Cottonwood Heights, Aug. 2, 2020. Thursday, a judge ruled to keep some evidence out of the trial of a man accused of assaulting police. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Gabriel Pecoraro is scheduled for a jury trial beginning on March 31 after he was arrested for assaulting police.

Pecoraro was attending a protest against police violence, which also memorialized his brother, Zane James, who was shot by police in 2018. A judge ruled, however, that evidence pertaining to James' case and the circumstances of James' death should be kept out of Pecoraro's trail.

James, according to police reports, had robbed two stores at gunpoint when he was shot by police as he was running away. Family claims that James should not have been shot and discrepancies exist in police reports, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the city in James' case.

On Aug. 2, 2020, police had asked protestors to walk on sidewalks instead of the street to keep from blocking traffic and eventually, fights broke out between police and protestors, court documents state. Eight people were arrested, including Pecoraro and James' father.

Pecoraro has been charged with two counts of assault against a police officer, a class A misdemeanor, and one count of interfering with an arresting officer, a class B misdemeanor.

Third District Court Judge Paul Parker told prosecutors on Thursday to keep information about James out of the trial.

"Any evidence or allegation concerning the 2018 police-involved shooting and death of Zane James, and any subsequent administrative or legal proceedings, shall be excluded from trial," the court order states.

At a Dec. 22 hearing, Emily Cross, deputy district attorney, argued that including evidence regarding the death of Zane James would cause prejudice and lead jurors to make an emotional decision related to that death. She also argued that it could cause a case involving misdemeanor charges to require more resources than necessary.

Parker acknowledged that the protest was held in memory of James and that Pecoraro attended because of the death of his brother. The judge noted that when sharing video evidence, the jury would likely see signs referring to James and it would be hard to keep information about James entirely out of the trial.

Pecoraro's attorney, Alexander Ramos, said he had planned to show that police had exhibited a specific bias against Pecoraro at the protest. He said that reports of the event indicated that a policeman had said something to Pecoraro about killing Pecoraro's brother, which may have incited the alleged assault.

The attorney explained that Pecoraro would only be guilty if the police were acting within their authority, but would not be guilty if the defense could show that Pecoraro was unlawfully detained or that the police were acting outside their authority and taunting him.

The judge ultimately ruled that the fact that Pecoraro is James' brother is not relevant to the charges and should not be brought up unless his attorneys are able to establish evidence showing that the police at the rally were aware of the connection.

Ramos claimed there was sound obtained from police camera videos that would prove a bias and the judge set a hearing for Jan. 14 to address the additional evidence, but the defense later canceled that request and the hearing. When removing their motion, the defense stated it was still in the process of collecting evidence and attorneys plan to file another motion when they get that.

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