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Three people charged in connection with Cottonwood Heights protest

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Posted at 11:12 PM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 01:12:08-04

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah -- Three people are being charged for their alleged involvement in a protest last month in Cottonwood Heights that ultimately led to a clash with police.

Cottonwood Heights Police sent the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office "screening packets" for eight people accused of possible criminal activity during the protest on Aug. 2. After reviewing the evidence, the office of D.A. Sim Gill filed charges against three and declined to charge the remaining five.

The initially peaceful protest was a "March for Justice" focused largely around Zane James, who was shot and killed by a Cottonwood Heights officer in 2018.

In charging documents, police say the conflict began when demonstrators marching on Mill Hollow Drive were blocking traffic and police warned them to move to the sidewalk or they could be arrested.

That's when police say several participants refused to get out of the street, and officers attempted to take them into custody.

One of those suspects, 26-year-old Gabriel John Pecoraro of Cottonwood Heights, allegedly ran from the officer attempting to apprehend him. According to the charging documents, Pecoraro "violently" pulled his arm away as the officer grabbed him. This led to a fight with both the officer and the suspect on the ground, including Pecoraro putting the officer in a "modified choke hold" and ultimately escaping the officer, police say.

According to police, another officer ran to help the first officer but was punched in the face by 30-year-old Ren Alex Knab of Cottonwood Heights in the process. The officer then tried to take Knab into custody, but he reportedly swung again at the officer and missed. The officer then hit Knab with "distraction blows" to the face as he tried to subdue him. Knab managed to escape for a moment before the officer tackled him and handcuffed him with the help of a fellow officer.

As the officers took Knab into custody, court records say 35-year-old Salt Lake City resident Andrew Ryan Carter interfered by throwing liquid from a bottle at them, then threw punches at officers who tried to apprehend him.

Officers spotted Percoraro again shortly thereafter and were ultimately able to take him into custody after another altercation.

All three men are being charged with interference with an arresting officer, a Class-B misdemeanor. Knab and Carter are charged with one count each of Class-A misdemeanor assault on a peace officer, while Percoraro has two counts of the same charge.

The D.A.'s office also investigated a complaint from Cottonwood Heights City Councilwoman Tali Bruce, who participated in the protest and claimed she was assaulted by an officer. Gill determined that charges were not warranted.

The screening team did find one officer's conduct "concerning," but Gill said there was not sufficient evidence file charges after reviewing the incident "in the context of the surrounding interactions."

Gill's office added that the charges could be subject to change if new evidence is introduced, and they invited anyone with potentially helpful evidence to email districatty@slco.org with the subject line "COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS."