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Utah lawmakers to study increasing penalties on rioters

A police car is engulfed in flames as people protest police brutality in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah legislative committee has voted unanimously to look into increasing penalties on rioters. 

The move is supported by sheriffs across the state, like Cache County Sheriff Chad Jensen, who are concerned about several protests in and around Salt Lake City that have turned violent in recent months. 

“We can better protect the citizens of Utah and our law enforcement and all first responders as they respond to these types of incidents across the state,” Jensen told lawmakers on Tuesday. 

It’s unclear what those penalties would look like, though recent legislation in Tennessee has caught the attention of local law enforcement. 

The controversial law mandates at least 45 days in jail for aggravated rioting and increases the restitution for damaging specific types of property. 

Rioting is already a misdemeanor in Utah, but it can become a felony if another person is hurt, or the rioter is armed or causes substantial property damage. 

Representative Lee Perry, who just retired from the Utah Highway Patrol, is open to increasing penalties on rioters. 

“We want to encourage protesting, but we do not want to encourage rioting,” Perry said during the hearing.