In the wake of one "kiss-in" protest carried out last Sunday and ahead of another one planned for this Sunday, the LDS Church issued a statement Friday defending its Main Street Plaza property rights and its actions involving a pair of men cited there last week for their public displays of affection.
Echoing previous comments made by a church spokeswoman following the July 9 incident, Friday's statement said the pair were asked "to stop engaging in behavior deemed inappropriate for any couple of the plaza," which was "more involved than a simple kiss on the cheek."
"They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language and had obviously been using alcohol," the statement continued. "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."
The two — Derek Jones and Matthew Aune — were detained by church security, cited by Salt Lake police for trespassing, an infraction of city ordinances, and later released.
The police report stated that Aune said the two had been drinking earlier at the Gallivan Center. After leaving and passing through the plaza, they sat down and he kissed Jones. Aune told police that when the two were confronted by church security and asked to leave, he refused, and he was slammed to the ground as security detained the pair with handcuffs.
The reporting officer wrote that he did not see any signs of injury on either of the two men and that the security personnel denied slamming down either of the two when detaining them. The report also acknowledged the smell of alcohol on the breath of one of the men and accompanying slurred speech.
Jones did not return repeated calls from the Deseret News seeking his response to the church's statement.
Calling the church-owned pedestrian mall an extension of the Salt Lake Temple grounds and its headquarters, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in the Friday statement that it wants the area to be a place of beauty and serenity for everyone.
"There is nothing satisfying in learning that there have been problems for anyone on church property. We hope the plaza will continue to be an asset to the community and enjoyed by the many that cross it each day."
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City prosecutor Sim Gill said his office plans to examine the case thoroughly to ensure that the charges are valid and his office has all the evidence it needs to proceed with a prosecution.
"It appears there are some missing pieces that still need to be gathered," Gill said. "We want to make sure there was sufficient evidence in the police report and make sure the charges are appropriate."
Gill said the case against the pair is set for a routine arraignment hearing July 23 before Salt Lake City Municipal Court Judge John Baxter. Gill said infractions of city ordinances do not carry jail time as potential sentences, but fines up to $500 can be imposed.
After the July 9 incident and Jones' own blog-posts were reported by the media, about 60 people gathered last Sunday morning to stage a "kiss-in" on the sidewalk just off the LDS Church's property to protest the actions taken by the church security personnel.
As the gathering was beginning to disperse, about 35 protesters crossed onto church property, prompting church representatives to call police officers. Police gave directives to protesters to move off the private property — demonstrators complied, and no citations were issued.
A similar "kiss-in" is planned for Sunday.
Contributing: Linda Thomson
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