Police say masked protesters tried to incite crowd to rush officers outside Chaffetz town hall

Posted at 8:38 PM, Feb 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-11 23:34:25-05

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah -- Police in Cottonwood Heights offered more details Saturday about a large protest at a town hall put on by Rep. Jason Chaffetz earlier this week, saying a handful protesters with holstered firearms and bandannas covering their faces urged others to rush officers when they closed the doors.

Lt. Dan Bartlett of the Cottonwood Heights Police Department said several individuals at the event were demonstrating their Constitutional rights to openly carry handguns.

“There were several people who had come and exercised their constitutional rights to open carry, which is fine with us, we’re used to it—it’s something that happens here in Utah all of the time," Bartlett said.

However, two or three men with handguns also had bandannas covering their mouths and faces. Bartlett said when officers closed the door to the event due to the crowd reaching fire code limits, those individuals tried to incite the crowd to rush at police and gain entry.

"As the crowd started to grow and chant and it got a little louder, they were in the crowd kind of telling other people in the protest that they should rush the cops," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said none of the other people in the crowd followed this suggestion, and police were quickly made aware of the issue.

“People weren’t having it, for the most part everyone was very kind with us, a lot of people shook our hands," he said.

As officers approached the men who were trying to incite the crowd, those men left the scene. Officers did not pursue, and there were no arrests made.

“We caught onto that pretty quickly and put an end to it," Bartlett said.

Bartlett said none of the people carrying weapons at the protest drew or brandished their firearms.

Unrelated to the incident with the masked protesters, another group of people tried to gain access to the rear of the school, believing this would allow them to confront Rep. Chaffetz as he exited the event. Police were able to direct those people away from the rear of the school.

There were no injuries or property damage reported in connection with either incident or the protest in general.

“For the most part everyone was very calm and respectful with us, and we didn’t have very many issues, but we had one arrest," Bartlett said.

The town hall drew at least 2,000 people, hundreds of whom were left outside as the auditorium reached capacity. Bartlett said the town hall attracted great interest in the days beforehand, and the event was moved to the high school from city hall to make more seats available.

Rep. Chaffetz said he believes some of those who attended were paid protesters sent in an attempt to bully and intimidate him, a statement several constituents who tried to attend the event refuted.

Cottonwood Heights PD noted in their tweets Saturday that some people in the crowd came from out of state.

“There were several groups out there protesting all sorts of different things," Bartlett said. "There were a lot of Bears Ears people who wanted to talk about that… there were several interest groups that had different signs and things like that, and they were peaceful for the most part so it wasn’t an issue for us.”

Fox 13 News reached out to Congressman Chaffetz Saturday for a reaction, and his office declined to comment.