SALT LAKE CITY — The man accused of helping light a Salt Lake City Police car on fire during violent protests says it was all a misunderstanding.
La’Troi Newbins’ attorney says he was trying to extinguish the flames, just as he had defused tensions between police and protestors two days later.
When a Salt Lake City police vehicle was tipped over and set on fire May 30th, there’s no denying Newbins was there.
What the police got wrong, according to defense attorney Darwin Overson, was his intent.
“He’s a peaceful person. He really is,” said Overson Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors charged Newbins with arson. On Monday, they argued they have video of the 28-year-old adding what appears to be a rolled up banner to the flames. Instead, Overson said it was doused with water in an attempt to smother the fire.
"When he got in there, it was simply too hot and immediately he jumped back and the paper does go up in the fire. There is no contesting that, that’s on video. What the government didn’t know it was an attempt to put the fire out."
Newbins told a federal judge Monday he had successfully put out another fire on the police car using a water bottle.
Newbins turned himself in after hearing police wanted to talk to him last week. Investigators said they recognized the suspect from video of Newbins negotiating the peaceful exit of hundreds of protestors and avoiding mass arrest on June 1.
"Now, we are going to be peaceful about it, peaceful about it,” Newbins was heard saying to protestors. "We didn’t come here for no violence.”
The group was violating a city-imposed curfew and surrounded by police in riot gear.
“The [police] wanted to negotiate how we could all get out of here safely and I was all for it. I had to let everybody know that we had a choice. We came together and we stay together,” Newbins told FOX13 while leading protestors away from police.
On Monday, the federal judge took that action into account before ordering Newbins to be released from custody while awaiting trial. He will be back in court to face the arson charge later this summer.
"I have no doubt that he will do just fine in this case and we will prove his innocence, I just hope everybody can keep an open mind,” said Overson.
If found guilty, Newbins could face up to 20 years in prison. A gofundme account has raised nearly $11,000 to pay for his legal defense.