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2 charged with setting fire to Utah police car in protest

June 4, 2020 GMT
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Protesters conduct a peaceful demonstration while a Utah National Guardsman watches Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Salt Lake City. A peaceful protest over George Floyd's death made its way through downtown after the mayor announced a new weeklong curfew. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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Protesters conduct a peaceful demonstration while a Utah National Guardsman watches Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Salt Lake City. A peaceful protest over George Floyd's death made its way through downtown after the mayor announced a new weeklong curfew. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two Salt Lake City men accused of setting fire to an empty police car during protests over the death of George Floyd were charged in federal court Wednesday.

Investigators studied video footage to find Jackson Stuart Tamowski Patton, 26, and La’Troi Newbins, 28. They are accused of tossing combustible substances into the patrol car Saturday, feeding the flames that destroyed it, prosecutors said in court documents.

Patton, who is listed as white, was arrested Tuesday during another anti-police-brutality protest, after officers recognized his tattoos, authorities said. Newbins, who is identified as black, turned himself into police Wednesday.

Newbins used a megaphone and appeared to be a leader in the protests Monday, prosecutors said. Investigators identified him using news reports, including one where he helped negotiate a peaceful exit for protesters without mass arrests.

The protests have grown quieter this week, and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall lifted a curfew order Wednesday.

Both were charged with one count of arson. If convicted, they face at least five years and up to 20 years in prison. The case was filed by federal rather than state prosecutors because the Salt Lake City Police Department participates in interstate commerce, authorities wrote in court documents.

“Those involved in this criminal behavior — including the conduct alleged in this complaint — should know that we will use every available tool we have to hold them accountable,” said John Huber, U.S. attorney for Utah, in a statement.

Protesters have been demonstrating for days across the U.S. and Europe, and violence has flared following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis. A white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

Patton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempted criminal trespassing related to a 2014 incident and in a DUI case from 2017, according to online state court records. No attorney has been listed for him, and a publicly listed phone number was disconnected.

Newbins pleaded guilty in 2012 to interfering with an arresting officer and giving police false information and in 2011 to DUI and possession of a controlled substance, according to online state court records. No attorney has been listed for him.

Newbins’ brother, La’Toi, 26, said he was shocked to hear his brother had been charged in connection with the police car fire. He said his brother has only participated in peaceful protests and is not a violent person.

“He wasn’t involved with any criminal activity that they’re saying he was involved in,” said La’Toi Newbins, who is also from Salt Lake City. “All he did was protest and want his voice to be heard.”

In other developments, a Utah criminal justice professor who wrote an inflammatory series of tweets during the nationwide protests said Wednesday that he has resigned.

Scott Senjo told The Associated Press in an email that he agrees his tweets were “simply wrong” and his resignation from Weber State University would be effective immediately.

Over the weekend, he tweeted at a black reporter who said he had been hit by New York City police: “Excellent. If I was the cop, you wouldn’t be able to tweet.” He also expressed support for damage done to CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

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In response to another tweet showing a New York City police car driving into people, Senjo commented: “That’s not how I would have driven the car into the crowd.”

Senjo said his posts were part of the “oftentimes vulgar, extreme back-and-forth that can occur on Twitter,” but he now realizes they were “far beyond the realm of acceptable university policy as well as acceptable social norms.”

Weber State University has condemned the messages as “abhorrent” and opened an investigation to determine if other measures would be taken to ensure campus safety. The school had placed him on paid leave Tuesday to conduct a review and did not ask him to resign, officials said in a statement.

Senjo had been a professor at the college in Ogden since 2000.