Salt Lake City Main Library is seen in this file photo. In the background is the Salt Lake City-County Building. | Ravell Call, Deseret News
Library officials say man was suspected in attack and only recently raised kneeling claims
SALT LAKE CITY — A black Salt Lake man has filed a lawsuit against Salt Lake City, claiming security guards at the downtown library beat him and kneeled on his neck with a knee.
But library officials say the man was suspected of attacking a woman and only recently has made claims that the guards knelt on him.
Two law firms announced Thursday they have jointly filed a lawsuit on behalf of Anthony Nelson, 59, The civil rights lawsuit was filed Wednesday in 3rd District Court against the Salt Lake City Main Library, its executive director Peter Bromberg, library board director Lu Marzulli, Salt Lake City Corporation, CBI Security Services, and security guards S.O. Corella and Nathen Larsen.
The suit contends Nelson was stopped by two security guards who “without cause … senselessly” beat him and demeaned him “because of his race.”
“The guards beat Nelson with their fists, a baton, knees and feet, beating his face and head many times, and placing a knee on his neck,” the lawsuit states.
The incident is alleged to have occurred more than a year ago, on April 4, 2019.
Nelson was “on his way to work when he stopped to chat with a friend on the Library Plaza,” according to a statement from Nelson’s attorney. “At about the same time, an argument broke out between two women nearby, one of whom attacked the other with a stick. Nelson witnessed the altercation from a distance but did not know the women.”
Two security guards approached and Nelson pointed in the direction that one of the women fled, according to the statement. Instead, the guards ordered Nelson to the ground.
“One of the guards told Nelson that because he was black and the suspected perpetrator of the attack was also black, he must be somehow involved with the suspect. When Nelson explained that he had nothing to do with the argument and did not know the women, one of the guards, Nathan Larsen, began striking Nelson in the face with a closed fist. The other guard, S.O. Corella, then struck Nelson on the back of his head with his baton. Nelson, who was unarmed, fell to the cement where the guards zip-tied his hands behind his back,” according to the statement from Nelson’s attorneys.
The lawsuit states that Corelle “with great force, struck Nelson on the back of his head. Nelson had no notice or warning that Corella would strike him with his baton. After being struck in the back of the head with the baton, Nelson fell to the ground face first, confused and injured. While on the ground, Nelson posed no threat to the security guards. He was immobile and weaponless.”
While lying there, Nelson said he felt a knee on his neck, according to his attorneys.
“Then, in behavior eerily similar to the actions that ended the life of George Floyd in Minneapolis and continue to cause nationwide protests, one of the guards ‘kneed’ Nelson on his neck causing him to struggle to breathe. The other guard kicked Nelson,” the statement continued.
“This appears to be a case of extreme racial profiling,” attorney Lucas Adams alleged in a prepared statement. “The only reason Mr. Nelson was assaulted by the guards was because he happened to be of the same race as the suspect.”
But library officials say Nelson was pointed out as a possible suspect by one of the victims.
“We take any claim of excessive force seriously, which is why we conducted an internal review of this incident when Mr. Nelson’s lawyer contacted us in August 2019,” the library said in a statement.
“Two safety officers were called to assist a woman who had been violently attacked in the face with a machete. As our staff were administering first aid, the victim indicated Mr. Nelson and another individual as the attackers. Our staff then followed protocol in detaining Mr. Nelson until the police arrived. This incident took place over one year ago, and only now are additional allegations of neck-kneeling and chokeholds being raised. We cannot comment further due to ongoing/pending litigation, and we believe that the facts will show that our staff behaved legally and followed protocols,” the library statement says.
Nelson was treated for a possible broken nose as well as various other injuries.
“Nelson required stitches to control the bleeding and to close the numerous large wounds to his head,” the lawsuit states, while noting that he is now “permanently disfigured from these injuries, with a raised scar in a prominent location on his right forehead.”
He has also lost some vision in his right eye, according to the lawsuit.
“People have a constitutional right to be safe in their persons,” attorney Kathleen McConkie, who is also representing Nelson, said in a prepared statement. “The presumption that a person is guilty of a crime because of the color of his skin is both unconstitutional and unconscionable.”
The attorneys say the incident comes on the heels of two other cases in which security guards appeared to hit a black man with a baton, as well as shove and throw items at them.
CBI Senior Vice President Derek Evans said Thursday he needed to read through the lawsuit before making a comment.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s office also issued a brief statement on Thursday.
“The Salt Lake Library is a separate entity from the city and the employees involved in this matter are not city employees. We are supportive of the library’s process and internal investigation, but cannot comment on it as it is not city business. Our attorneys are analyzing next steps to remove the city from the case.”