Jose Lopez was working inside his Salt Lake City-based tire shop on Tuesday when he heard his son, Luis, screaming outside. When he ran to his son, Jose reportedly found a man swinging a metal bar and shouting “I hate Mexicans.”
The man, Alan Dale Covington, then allegedly assaulted both men with the metal bar, according to Salt Lake City Police logs.
But police won’t charge Covington, a 50-year-old Mississippi native, with a hate crime, due to a loophole in Utah’s hate crime statute. It’s also unclear whether Covington was targeting Mexicans specifically, or people he believed to be associated with the Mexican mafia.
"Although we want to pat ourselves on the back and say we have a hate crime statute, it’s really not enforceable."
Jose’s daughter, Veronica Lopez, told the Salt Lake Tribune that police haven’t been able to get an official statement from her father or brother, who aren’t associated with the Mexican mafia, according to KUTV. Speaking on behalf of her father and uncle — who witnessed the tail end of the assault — Veronica told the Tribune that her family has reason to believe they were targeted.
When Jose ran outside to guard his son, Luis allegedly grabbed a bar from the tire shop tool box and tried to defend his 51-year-old father from Covington’s attacks. Covington then allegedly knocked the teenager unconscious, beat him, and then hit the father in the arm as he tried to defend his son.
As a result of his injuries, Luis underwent extensive surgery “to place a titanium plate from the right side of his face to his nose to be able to attach the bones and keep his eyeball in place” after the attack, according to a GoFundMe page created by Veronica. Jose received stitches. The tire shop has temporarily closed.
As Covington allegedly attacked the father and son, he shouted “I want to kill a Mexican” while asking whether the family was involved in the “Mexican mafia,” Veronica told the Salt Lake Tribune. She also said the family has felt threatened and targeted since the election of President Donald Trump.
Police later charged Covington with three weapon and drug charges, plus two felony counts of aggravated assault, according to the Tribune. Covington, who had previously served jail time for assault and domestic violence, might’ve been on drugs and compromised by “some mental health issues,” Salt Lake City police Detective Greg Wilking told the Tribune.
Why the alleged attacker isn’t being charged with a hate crime
Salt Lake City prosecutors have decided not include any hate crimes in Covington’s charges because Utah law only allows for misdemeanor assaults to be elevated in that way. Covington was charged with felonious assault.
“Although we want to pat ourselves on the back and say we have a hate crime statute, it’s really not enforceable,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the Tribune.
During Covington’s prior sentence, he was worried someone in a Mexican mafia prison gang would attack him. Police told the Salt Lake Tribune that Covington's comments appeared directed toward the Mexican mafia during the alleged attack — but the uncle who caught the last moments of the fight remembered Covington saying “I’m going to kill someone.”
Covington also allegedly told local police that he went to Lopez’s tire shop since he believed they were a part of the Mexican mafia because “all of them know each other,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The conflicting motives make police unsure whether the attack would be considered targeted against Mexicans in general. The broadly written hate crime statute does not offer protections for any specific minority groups and hasn’t resulted in a prosecution since it passed in 1992, according to the Tribune.
State lawmakers had previously introduced legislation to strengthen Utah’s hate crime laws, but those efforts reportedly failed due to pushback from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to the Washington Post. Mormons in the state have repeatedly opposed laws they believe would infringe upon religious liberties by further protecting LGBTQ rights.
In the next legislative session, Republican State Sen. Daniel Thatcher plans to re-introduce the legislation to strengthen the hate crimes statute and allow for victim targeting to enhance felony charges, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The senator has also assured the bill will protect religious liberties as well as First Amendment rights but will offer protections for LGBTQ-identifying people, too, according to the Standard-Examiner.
“This isn’t a left or right issue,” Thatcher told the Tribune. “It’s about criminal justice.”
Cover image: Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speak with reporters following a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)