- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah prosecutor said he can’t file anything tougher than misdemeanor assault charges this week against two Wyoming men accused of attacking two gay Salt Lake City men because the state’s hate crimes law is too broadly written and needs to be strengthened to include LGBT protections.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Thursday that he didn’t file misdemeanor assault charges until Wednesday in the 2014 attack because his office spent a lot of time trying to see if federal prosecutors could build a case against the men, or if his office could charge the duo under Utah’s hate crimes law, which he calls vague.

The two men who prosecutors say were attacked, Rusty Andrade and his friend Maxwell Christen, spent time at Utah’s Capitol earlier this year advocating for lawmakers to pass a new hate crimes law.

According to court documents, Andrade and Christen were outside Andrade’s house on the night of Dec. 21, 2014, when they hugged and were approached by the two Wyoming men, Chad Ryan Doak and Eric Levi Johnson.

Doak and Johnson made homophobic comments and used gay slurs before attacking the two men, according to prosecutors.

Doak punched Andrade several times in the face and they fell to the ground in the struggle, while Johnson attacked Christen, pulling him to the ground by his neck, according to court documents.

A neighbor and a bouncer at a nearby gay bar tried intervene and the two Wyoming men fled.

After the fight, Andrade had a cervical strain, head trauma, a rib contusion and several teeth knocked loose. Christen had a sore neck and face and chin bruise, police said.

Johnson, a 26-year-old from Rock Springs, and Doak, a 25-year-old from Green River, did not yet have listed attorneys to comment on their behalf. Johnson had no listed telephone number and a number for Doak was disconnected Thursday.

A judge issued arrest warrants for both men, who are believed to be in Wyoming, Gill said.

He said it’s up to Wyoming police to arrest the men and he did not know whether that could happen anytime soon. He said if the men were arrested, he’d try to extradite them to Utah.

Andrade and Christen both lobbied for Utah to pass a stronger hate crimes law earlier this year, something legislators rejected. Gill said that had the legislation passed, it wouldn’t have applied in their case because the law change would not have been retroactive.

But Gill said Thursday that the case shows why Utah needs a change.

Utah is one of 15 states with hate crime laws that lack protections for sexual orientation and identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Utah’s law does not spell out any protected traits, such as religion or race, but instead speaks generally about crimes that cause a person to fear they cannot freely exercise their constitutional rights.

“It is one that is so difficult to access and apply,” Gill said.

Earlier this year, Utah lawmakers rejected a bill to toughen the hate crimes law and allow higher penalties if a crime was motivated based on a victim’s race, religion or sexual orientation, among other things. Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsored the bill and said it was “effectively snuffed out” by the Mormon church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement urging legislators not to upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights. Mormon church officials declined to elaborate on the statement, but its comments had an impact on lawmakers, most of whom are members of the faith.


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