A Utah man who appeared to target Latino victims in an attack is not expected to be charged with a hate crime.
Attack on “Mexicans”
18 year old Luis Lopez and his 51 year old father Jose Lopez were working at their family tire shop when a man walked into their shop’s garage and attacked them with a large metal pole. 50 year old Alan Dale Covington entered the tire shop when according to another member of the Lopez family, Covington asked if the family was part of the “Mexican Mafia”. It was after this Covington came after the son and father swinging. Luis was struck in the face, causing severe injuries to his cheekbone, eye socket and sinus cavity and knocking him unconscious. His father Jose received injuries to his shoulder and arm while trying to protect his son.
Covington was arrested and charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault which is defined by section 76-5-103 of the Utah Criminal Code as:
(i) “an attempt, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another;
(ii) A threat, accompanied by a show of immediate force of violence, to do bodily injury to another; or
(iii) An act, committed with unlawful force or violence, that causes bodily injury to another or creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another; and [that includes the use of a dangerous weapon]”.
Aggravated assault is a third degree felony unless the victim is seriously injured or knocked unconscious. In this case the charges are enhances to a second degree felony. If a police officer is targeted and is seriously injured, the charges are enhanced to a first degree felony.
Not qualifying as a hate crime
While the penalties for aggravated assault are enhanced for targeting a police officer, targeting a person of a certain race does not qualify for additional or enhanced hate crime penalties. Utah Code 76-3-203.3 states: “A person who commits any primary offense [misdemeanors only] with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person or with reason to believe that his action would intimidate or terrorize that person is subject [as follows]
(i) A class C misdemeanor primary offense is a class B misdemeanor; and
(ii) A class B misdemeanor primary offense is a class A misdemeanor.”
While this section may begin to add further punishment to hate crimes, it only covers misdemeanor charges. For felony charges such as aggravated assault, there are no enhancements for hate crimes. Utah lawmakers are again pushing to update these laws to incorporate enhanced charges for all crimes.
Mental health and intent
Many believe Covington should face enhanced charges due to the fact that he appeared to target and attack the Latino family based solely on their race. Law enforcement officers noted however that Covington seemed to be suffering from mental illness or a psychiatric episode as he had a prior history of mental illness and also showed an unreasonable fear of Latinos while incarcerated. 76-3-203.3 that enhances punishments for hate crimes states: ”The act must be accompanied with the intent to cause . . . a person to reasonably fear to freely exercise or enjoy any right secured by the Constitution or laws of the state or by the Constitution or law of the United States.” While Covington will face the charges for the attack as soon as he is mentally ready to do so, asking prosecutors to further punish him for his intent while he was mentally unstable could be seen as unfair and unnecessary as he currently faces multiple felonies already. Anyone who may be facing criminal charges where mental illnesses played a role are encouraged to seek counsel from a reputable attorney.