Officers with the Provo City Police Department are investigating several allegations of violence on both sides of the End Police Brutality Provo counterprotest down University Avenue — which resulted in the shooting of a driver who was attempting to force his way through protesters.
The protest was organized to counter a “Back the Blue” event also held in downtown Provo on Monday evening.
The counterprotest began late Monday evening, drawing about 100 protesters blocking traffic at the intersection of University and Center streets.
“Peaceful protests are a fundamental right and often can become an important catalyst for positive change,” Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said in the Council Chambers at the City Center on Tuesday morning. “Criminal acts of violence such as we saw last night in Provo were anything but peaceful, and unacceptable. The public safety of our community is a top priority.”
The event was sponsored by groups out of Salt Lake City, such as Solidarity for Justice, Salt Lake Equal Rights Movement, Salt Lake City Antifascist Coalition, and Insurgence.
Event organizers invited residents to stand with protesters to combat “blatant acts of discrimination, racism and unethical acts towards people of color” and to “crush this suppression.”
Participants wore face masks in an effort to keep people safe, walking down University Avenue with signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and chanting slogans.
As the event continued, however, it soon turned violent as multiple cars tried to ram through the line of protesters. During one of the three recorded earlier incidents, gunshots also were reported.
Police say that both the police rally and counter protest coincided without incident until just after 8:30 p.m. At that time, Provo city police received a call regarding gunshots and a potential hit-and-run. Sometime later, authorities received another call about a possible shooting victim that had been checked into Utah Valley Hospital.
Based on video footage captured by other protesters, a white SUV was driving south on University Avenue before pulling into the right lane in an attempt to turn onto Center Street, said Deputy Chief of Police John Geyerman.
Several protesters began approaching the vehicle as it was attempting to force its way through and a male protester ran up to the SUV on the passenger side, pointed a handgun at the driver, and shot one round through the window, striking the driver.
The driver accelerated southbound onto University in an attempt to get to safety, Geyerman said.
The male protester who is seen shooting into the vehicle ran after the white SUV and shot a second round through the rear passenger window. Video footage then shows the protester concealing the firearm and continuing to protest.
Reports indicate that same male protester later approached another vehicle at 500 North and University Avenue, striking and breaking the window with the same handgun, Geyerman said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the man accused of shooting a driver during Monday’s protests in downtown was arrested.
According to a statement by the Provo City Police Department, 33-year-old Jesse Taggart of Salt Lake City was booked into the Utah County Jail under the suspicion of attempted aggravated murder, aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, rioting, threatening use of a weapon in a fight or quarrel, criminal mischief, and firing a weapon near a highway.
Authorities also arrested 27-year-old Samantha Darling of Ogden under the suspicion of obstruction of justice and rioting in connection with Monday’s protests. She was booked into the Utah County Jail on Tuesday.
Throughout the night, further video shows cars continued to drive through the protesters as demonstrators began to jump on cars and hit their windows.
After sunset, protesters marched to the Provo Police Department, where they came face-to-face with officers in riot gear.
When police approached demonstrators and commanded them to disperse, it wasn’t until one of the protest’s organizers told protesters to leave that most of the individuals did.
“If you support our movement, you will peacefully go,” she said into a megaphone.
In a statement Tuesday, Josianne Petit, who lived in Provo for 12 years, said she attended the demonstration in support of Provo civil rights and police brutality activists. She said she still considers Provo her home, noting that there are some officers in the Provo City Police Department that she would “take a bullet for.”
Describing the scene, Petit said she began to leave, but stopped to have a conversation with officers who were still outside. She said she asked that for everyone’s safety and comfort that the officers go back into the police department until all of the demonstrators had left. Petit said the officers agreed and went inside.
“The protesters were the ones who told other protesters to go home,” Petit said. “Stop saying this is our fault. We were the ones that deescalated that.”
The demonstration had all but dissolved by 10 p.m.