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Dave & Dujanovic: Can cops arrest coronavirus protesters?

Protestors hold a rally in support of reopening businesses in St. George, saying the government's stay-at-home directive is an overreach. (KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Stay-at-home orders and directives have been issued by state, county and local leaders throughout the country. And for the most part, citizens have followed those instructions. But recently groups of coronavirus protestors have appeared, apparently, chafing at those rules.

More than 1,000 coronavirus protesters gathered at City Hall in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday in defiance of Salt Lake County’s public health order banning mass gatherings.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the protest took place in one of the most COVID-19 infected hot spots in the state.

Mostly police stood by and watched.

Longtime Salt Lake defense attorney and former prosecutor Greg Skordas joined Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega to give a legal perspective on the protest and demonstrators.

Why have an order?

“If you’re going to issue an order like Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City mayors have done and you’re not going to enforce it, why issue the order to begin with?” Dave asked.

“A lot of these orders, and I use that term a little bit loosely, have been much, much more directives and more suggestions than…laws,” Skordas said.

“I think there’s a good reason for them…to hope that the great majority of the population will follow them, but as we are seeing, some people are deciding to say, no, wait a minute, we don’t think your order is enforceable, and we are going to push the envelope and see,” Skordas said.

Is it on my rap sheet?

“What if police cited them? Would that stick at all?” Debbie asked. She also asked Skordas whether a citation appears on a person’s record as an arrest?

“The short answer is, it’s not,” he said. “An arrest is a detention, when you’re not free to leave. If you’re sitting in the back of a police car or you’ve got three police officer surrounding you, you’re under arrest.

“Whether the order is effective or valid. . .certainly there are other crimes I could see the police utilizing here: disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, riot, assault, those kind of crimes.

“Some of these people are acting out in away — notwithstanding whether there is a valid order or not — that they could be arrested. They could be taken into custody or given a citation, which is not an arrest, and ordered to appear in court to answer for charges that probably are very enforceable.” he said.

Can businesses defy an order?

“If a business decides to open up despite the order, what happens?” Dave asked.

“It depends on the business,” Skordas said.

“If it’s a restaurant or a bar, the Board of Health can come in and shut them down. They have enforcement capabilities based on public safety. The same would apply to the hair salons and nail salons and businesses like that.

“But if it’s a business like a gas station or a convenient store. . .I don’t know if that’s going to be something where our government can come in and shut them down forcibly.”

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

State of Utah:

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line 18004567707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play