A 50-year-old man who police say walked into a tire shop in Salt Lake City, Utah, last week, screamed "I want to kill a Mexican" and then beat two Latino men will not be charged with a hate crime, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Salt Lake County District Attorney explained he can't charge Alan Covington with a hate crime due to a legal loophole.
"The first question I was asked was whether this is a hate crime and I said, 'That’s a question we’ll never answer," Gill said, according to KTLA sister station KSTU in Salt Lake City.
He added he can't answer that question because of the way Utah's hate crime statute is written.
"For the last 20 years we’ve never successfully prosecuted a single hate crime in the state of Utah," Gill said.
The statute currently only applies as an enhancer to existing charges -- but only misdemeanors, not felonies. Even with less serious charges, you still need to prove the intent of the assault was to deprive the victim of their constitutional rights, KSTU reported.
"This is a toothless tiger that has no influence whatsoever. It’s in name only. We can pat ourselves on the back but we're failing to provide a measure of justice in 2018," said Gill.
Police turned the investigation over to the DA's office after arrested Covington in connection with the beating.
Family members said Covington attacked a 55-year-old father and his 18-year-old son with a metal bar, seriously injuring the younger man.
The incident began when Luis Lopez walked outside the shop and asked Covington if he needed help, according to the victim's sister, Veronica Lopez.
She said that's when the suspect began asking questions.
“[He said], 'Are you Mexican? Are you in the Mexican Mafia?' and that he wanted to kill them,” Lopez said.
Covington then allegedly used a metal bar to knock the teen unconscious, leaving him with severe injuries included a shattered cheekbone and eye socket.
The father ran out and Covington bruised his shoulder before issuing a threat and leaving, according to Lopez.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the suspect admitted to the hate-fueled motivation.
"They asked Covington whether or not he targeted this tire shop because the family there is from Mexico and he responded that he did specifically target that shop which does fall under the definition of a hate crime," said Salt Lake Tribune reporter, Courtney Tanner.
Despite that admission, Gill's hands are tied.
"We have not just a loophole. We have a void in our statutory framework when it comes to targeted crimes and hate crimes in the state of Utah," said Gill.
Gill and others have tried to close the loophole several times over the years, but the bills in the legislature have never passed.
"I don’t know what the personal agenda of my legislators or their fear or animus is but they certainly don’t seem to recognize how this kind of crime impacts the wide community," he said.
Senator Thatcher, who represents Utah District 12, said he plans to run the bill again this upcoming legislative session.
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe account has been set up for the Lopez family, which is dealing with mounting medical costs. More information can be found here.