The trespassing case against a gay couple who kissed on the LDS Church-owned Main Street Plaza has been dropped.
Citing "significant evidentiary issues," the Salt Lake City Prosecutor's Office announced Wednesday it would not pursue the case against Derek Jones and Matthew Aune, whose arrest earlier this month prompted local and national protests.
Around 11 p.m. July 9, the couple held hands as they walked from the Gallivan Center through the Main Street Plaza, where Aune said he hugged Jones and kissed him on the cheek. That's when the couple was detained by private security guards and later cited by the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"Derek and Matt were not looking for a fight that night," said attorney Tara Isaacson. "They were not looking to make a point. They did not intend to violate the law. They acted like any other couple walking through a park. They're just glad that they've been exonerated."
In declining to pursue the case, Salt Lake City prosecutor Sim Gill said there "continues to be a mistaken belief by many visitors that there is a public right of way" on the Main Street Plaza, a private, but open, walkway that was sold to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Salt Lake City a decade ago.
"Under the facts of this case, there is a sufficient basis to believe a factual misunderstanding occurred," Gill wrote in a statement Wednesday. "There would be a basis to conclude the alleged trespassers did not have the sufficient notice to form the necessary mental intent to commit criminal trespass. The Main Street Plaza walkway was perceived to be open to the public. There is a reasonable basis to believe the alleged trespassers did not think the LDS staff who confronted them could legally eject them from the property."
Aune, 28, said he participated in a protest against the sale of the property in 1999, but the couple did not know there was no public right of way there.
"My understanding was that the church welcomed people there," said Jones, 25.
Attorney Walter Bugden said he expects the LDS Church to change the signage around the plaza to include more than just bans on skateboarding and smoking.
The church offered only a short statement Wednesday.
"While we feel the city had the necessary elements available for prosecution in this matter, the decision on whether to move forward or not rests with the city prosecutor," spokeswoman Kim Farah said.
Earlier this month, however, LDS Church officials said Jones and Aune engaged in "more than just a simple kiss on the cheek."
"They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language and had obviously been using alcohol," the church said in a statement last week. "They were politely told that the plaza was not the place for such behavior and asked to stop. When they became belligerent, the two individuals were asked to leave church property."
According to a Salt Lake police report, a church security guard said he saw Jones and Aune "kissing and hugging" and told them to leave the property "for the behavior and that it is unwanted."
Aune told police he and Jones had been drinking at the Gallivan Center and were walking home when they sat down and Aune kissed Jones, the report states.
Aune said the security guard "slammed him to the ground" and handcuffed him, a claim the guard denied to Salt Lake City police officers.
Aune called the LDS Church's account of the event "way out there."
"I think the LDS Church mischaracterized our behavior," he said. "And I think they did that because of the backlash."
The incident prompted two "kiss-in" protests on the plaza and another outside the LDS temple in San Diego. A nationwide "kiss-in" is planned for Aug. 15.
"They weren't Rosa Parks," Bugden said. "They weren't trying to make a statement. It just turned out that way."
Aune and Jones said they did not plan any legal action against the LDS Church.
"This is where we walk away," Aune said. "We have no greater agenda."