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University of Utah Police charge 9 students for interfering with police at protest

The University of Utah Police Department has issued 9 citations to protestors who disrupted Young Americans for Freedom’s watch party at Marriott Library on Nov. 1.

Nine protestors ranging in age from 19 to 23 years old, all university students, will be charged with several misdemeanors under state and city laws, including:

  • Interference with a Peace Officer (Utah State Code 76-8-305)—Class B misdemeanor
  • Disrupting the Operation of a School (76-9-106)—Class B misdemeanor
  • Disorderly Conduct (76-9-102)—Class B misdemeanor

The charges stem from the individuals’ behavior at the watch party. After approximately 15 minutes of protestor chanting, police attempted to clear the room to allow the watch party to continue. As they did, several protestors inside and outside the room locked arms to block officers’ movements and access to the door.

University Police have referred the charges to the Salt Lake City Prosecutor’s Office. The investigation is ongoing. Additional charges could be filed as detectives continue to review footage and interviews from the evening.

First and foremost, the role of University Police is to preserve public safety on campus, and ensure that every student, faculty and staff member is able to lawfully exercise their right to free speech, said Keith Squires, Chief Safety Officer. That means not infringing on another’s right to exercise their free speech. It also means not interfering with officers’ efforts to maintain public safety.

The decision to charge nine of the protestors—six of whom are members of the university’s MEChA chapter—with Class B and Class C misdemeanors is not related to the perspectives they were expressing, or the perspectives expressed by Young Americans for Freedom at the event, Squires added. University Police are neutral about the viewpoints expressed on campus.

“The protest at Marriott Library on Nov. 1 complied with the law up to the point that the protesting students shouted down the scheduled event, refused to leave, touched officers, locked arms and dangerously blocked their movements to the exits of the conference room,” he said. “At that point, the protest became a public safety risk for all.”

To de-escalate the situation, Squires cancelled the event for public safety concerns and officers escorted the YAF participants out of the building.

Criminal charges will be handled by law enforcement. Any academic discipline and accountability will be managed by the Dean of Students’ Office.

Under the U.S. Constitution, there is a clear line between the administration of the university and law enforcement when it comes to decisions to file criminal charges—just as there is between executive branch leaders such as mayors and governors and the law enforcement leaders who answer to them.

The Utah Board of Higher Education passed a resolution supporting campus police independence at its December 1 meeting. In the resolution the board calls for “protecting the independence of the police departments so they can carry out law enforcement criminal investigations unfettered by interference from the campus administration or others at their respective institutions.”

In April 2022, the Legislative Auditor General recommended the state’s higher education oversight board study options to create a systemwide or institutional-level policy to preserve campus police independence in investigations of criminal conduct.

The full resolution and the April 2022 legislative audit is available online.

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