In Utah, hate crime charges can only be made alongside misdemeanor charges, not felonies.
Two men, a father and a son of Mexican descent, were brutally beaten with a metal bar wielded by another man because of his alleged racial prejudices. Yet despite the nature of the targeted racial attack, the assailant is not facing hate crime charges.
Jose Lopez, 51, who owns Lopez Tires in Salt Lake City, was in the back of his store on November 27 when he heard screaming from his son, 18-year-old Luis Gustavo Lopez. When Jose Lopez came to the front of the store, he discovered a stranger standing there, 51-year-old Alan Dale Covington.
“I’m here to kill a Mexican,” Covington said, believing the Lopez family to be of Mexican heritage.
Things escalated in the tire store and Covington eventually beat the two men with the metal bar in his hand. A day later, Salt Lake City police found and arrested Covington, charging him with felony assault for his attack on the two Lopezes.
State laws prevented Covington from properly being charged with a hate crime. Under Utah state law, hate crime charges can only be applied when they accompany misdemeanor offenses, not felonies. It’s a loophole that has long been a problem in the eyes of some lawmakers in the state.
It’s a strange inconsistency that has been on the books for decades. But according to reporting from the Washington Post, changes that would address fixing the loophole have been opposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Republican State Sen. Steve Urquhart points out that, during one opportunity to address the matter, the Church effectively lobbied lawmakers telling them that the change to the hate crime statute would “upset the balance between gay rights and religious liberty.”
The two Lopezes will not, in all likelihood, be able to see their attacker get charged with hate crimes, despite the severity of their injuries. According to a GoFundMe page set up to help pay for medical expenses for the two, Jose Lopez suffered bruising on his back and required stitches on his arm after he was attacked. His son fared much worse: his face was “shattered,” and surgeons had to place a titanium plate in his face “to attach the bones and keep his eyeball in place,” the page read.
Neither father nor son have health insurance. The GoFundMe page was requesting $20,000 in aid to help the family pay for their medical bills. It has exceeded $50,000 as of Monday morning.
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