A Utah man who authorities say shouted that he wanted to "kill Mexicans" before attacking three Latinos at a tire shop in Salt Lake City was charged Wednesday with a hate crime by U.S. Department of Justice.
Alan Dale Covington, 50, attacked the victims with a 3-foot metal pole last November, leaving 18-year-old Luis Lopez with serious head wounds after he tried to defend his father, who was hit in the shoulder as he ran away.
The incident on Nov. 27, 2018, triggered renewed criticism of the Utah's state hate crimes law, which doesn't protect specific groups. County prosecutors have said the law is essentially unusable. Covington was charged with assault in state court but not a hate crime because Salt Lake County Attorney District Attorney Sim Gill said the law doesn't apply to felony crimes.
A legislative proposal to strengthen the hate-crimes law is under consideration this session.
Covington, indicted on three counts of hate crimes, doesn't have an attorney listed in court records. His public legal defender representing him on state charges didn't immediately return a phone message.
The FBI investigated the case with help from the Salt Lake City police department.
Covington told Utah investigators the "Mexican Mafia" had been after him for years and that he went to Lopez Tires on Nov. 27 because "they all know each other," Salt Lake City police said last year. The department helped the FBI with the investigation.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski applauded the charges, noting that the attack sowed fear in the community.
"It is time Utah adopt comprehensive hate crime legislation to give law enforcement and investigators the tools they need to prosecute these types of crime," Biskupski said in a statement.
The hate crime charges come days after a video emerged showing a man in Salt Lake City allegedly punching a stranger because he was gay. Police are investigating the incident.
A previous attempt to strengthen Utah's hate crime law stalled out in 2016 after supporters said its chances were hurt when the Mormon church released a statement urging legislators not to upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights. Most lawmakers are members of the faith.
Church officials said this year they don't oppose the legislation that would create enhanced penalties for people convicted of targeting someone because of their sexual orientation, race, religion or other factors.