CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Mass event organizers apologize, legal consequences still likely

Nov 2, 2020, 6:48 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:22 am

UTAH COUNTY — The group behind an event that attracted up to 10,000 people in Utah County on Halloween night say they never intended for it to get so big. But even with their apology, police say they may face some sort of punishment for lacking a permit for the event.

The Utah County event that got out of hand

People who work with Utah Tonight Events say they intended “The Protest On Halloween” to raise awareness about the negative side effects of the COVID-19 shutdown.  Karson Jensen volunteered to photograph the event, and says the organizers sent direct invitations to their followers.  However, he says those followers invited their friends, who invited more friends, and so on.  Eventually, word spread like wildfire.

“The organizers have said to me they’re sorry for the unanticipated events and the way things unfolded,” Jensen said.

Jensen believes the fact that so many people attended the event proves many people are suffering from the effects of the isolation caused by the coronavirus.  He pointed to stories about increased domestic violence cases; he also believes people’s mental health needs aren’t fully being addressed.  Jensen believes the event organizers still want to address these issues, but, will they hold another event like this?

“In that fashion?  No.  I do not believe, to my knowledge, that it will continue in that fashion,” Jensen said.

Concern from health officials

Health officials worry about the large number of people at “The Protest” who didn’t appear to be wearing masks.  But they also worry about a message reportedly shared as a story on Utah Tonight’s Instagram account. 

The since-removed post urged people to “Get life back to normal by not getting tested for COVID-19.”  The post continued: “Getting tested simply provides the mob with more ammunition to control our lives.” People who saw the story sent it to KSL before it was removed. 

(A screen shot of since-removed Utah Tonight Instagram story.)

Representatives of the Salt Lake County Health Department say this isn’t the first time they’ve seen people spreading messages like this.  They tell KSL they’ve seen three or four similar posts urging people to avoid COVID-19 testing.  They say this advice is extremely reckless, since people could be infecting others without knowing it.  Plus, this doesn’t allow health workers to track where the virus is spreading.

Possible legal consequences

Even though the organizers are apologizing, they’re not off the hook.  Utah County Sheriff’s Sergeant Spencer Cannon says the event planners will likely face some sort of legal consequences, but investigators need more time to determine what those consequences will be.

“We have events that get carried out like this once, twice or three times a year.  It’s not very often that we actually get it finalized on the day of,” he said.

Cannon says, as far as they know, the group didn’t even apply for any kind of mass gathering license.  He says many things can go wrong if event organizers don’t plan everything properly.

“You’ve got as low as 3,000 and as many as 10,000, and no toilets, no plan for parking and no plan for a medical response,” Cannon said.

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Mass event organizers apologize, legal consequences still likely