HEALTH

Organizers of Utah County rave during pandemic peak agree to public apology

May 25, 2021, 6:16 PM
State of Utah Judiciary Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

PROVO, Utah — The Utah organizers of a Halloween rave attended by thousands during the pandemic have taken a plea deal requiring them to apologize to everyone else in the state for violating public health orders.

Erik Scott Little, 27, and Tanner Valerio, 26, are co-founders of The Tribe Utah, the group behind the mostly maskless gathering on Oct. 31 during a time when there were about 2,000 new COVID-19 cases daily in Utah. Authorities believe the event drew up to 10,000 people to the west side of Utah Lake.

Both pleaded guilty Monday in Utah County Justice Court to disobeying public health laws, a class B misdemeanor. They agreed to pen the apology letter, pay a $500 fine and abide by laws and public health directives for the next year. If they meet each condition, a judge will dismiss the cases under the terms of their pleas in abeyance.

Andrew Ivie, 24, entered the same type of plea after taking a similar deal last month.

The three are among nine people facing the same charge in connection with the party, although charges have been dismissed against four. Two cases remain pending.

A day before it took place, the Utah County Health Department declared the county a high transmission area, mandating face masks in public and requiring 6 feet of distance between people from different households. It also required permits for large gatherings, but prosecutors said the rave organizers didn’t obtain one.

They billed the event “The Protest on Halloween,” and later announced its cancellation amid public scrutiny. But the organizers instead gave ticket holders GPS coordinates “for the massive free underground party that was being held at a location near Utah Lake called ‘The Knolls,'” charging documents state.

The Utah County Sheriff’s Office found out about the party when an ambulance had to be called to the scene for a woman who had fallen while crowd-surfing.

The Utah County Health Department also has levied $10,000 fines against Little, Valerio, and their business. Their attorney, Pona Sitake, said he expects those fines to be reduced as part of an agreement with the county.

“It’s just kind of a hard thing to deal with, and for them, they don’t necessarily want to have to write a written apology letter,” Sitake said, adding that he feels the threats posed by COVID-19 are largely in the past. Asked if his clients feel regret, Sitake said he believes they have expressed such feelings on various podcasts and he expects the apology letters to speak for themselves when they’re filed within the next 30 days.

The others charged were accused of working on the stage equipment and also helped organize or DJ, according to court documents.

But the cases have been dismissed against four: James McReynolds, Daniel Edward Mortensen, Sadie Brooke Salisbury and Talifolaukovi Roger Foliaki.

Sitake said defense attorneys negotiated the dismissals, contending the four didn’t have enough of a role to be considered hosts of the party. Several rushed to help when the crowd surfer got hurt, he said.

In announcing the charges last year, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt called the party “just the type of super spreader event that we’re concerned about” and said the businesses attempted to profit off of the pandemic and put people at risk.

His office later decided to drop the four cases in the interest of fairness after analyzing who was most culpable, Leavitt said Tuesday.

“We didn’t charge anybody that we didn’t feel like we could get a conviction from,” he said.

Two others have pleaded not guilty: Samuel Mark Nii, of Orem, and Branden Abel Estrada, of Sandy.

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Organizers of Utah County rave during pandemic peak agree to public apology