Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify mayoral candidate Lisa Borowsky's position on Ugenti-Rita's proposal.
Following the riot at Scottsdale Fashion Square in May, Scottsdale Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita called for new legislation allowing business owners to shoot – and possibly kill – in defense of their property, drawing mostly lukewarm reactions from local politicians.
But one Scottsdale City Council member and mayoral candidate – and two hopefuls running to represent the city in the Legislature – offered more firm rebukes of the proposal, arguing it could result in more injuries or loss of life if another riot occurred in the future.
The riot May 30 saw 700 people descend on the area around Scottsdale Fashion Square, causing millions of dollars in damage to the mall and surrounding businesses.
There were no serious injuries or deaths, according to police.
But for weeks following the event, some business owners south of the mall in the 5th Avenue and Arts districts – which were largely untouched by the riot – boarded up windows and slept in their stores with firearms.
Armed members of an Arizona militia group were also seen roaming the streets downtown.
On June 5, Ugenti-Rita proposed on her Facebook page to expand existing laws to allow business owners to use deadly force to prevent vandalism or looting.
“I believe we need to strengthen our laws so businesses owners will have a legal justification for using physical force or deadly physical force when defending their property,” Ugenti-Rita wrote in the now-deleted post.
Ugenti-Rita did not respond to a request for comment.
Republican Alexander Kolodin, who is running against Ugenti-Rita in the Aug. 4 primary, has alleged that she stole the idea from him, citing a Facebook post from May 31 in which he wrote “If you think that the state ought to have police and citizens’ backs if they use force in defense of Scottsdale homes and businesses let me know.”
Still, he said he supported the proposal.
“I am very glad Senator Ugenti is running with the bill, because at the end of the day, we run for public office so we can get good legislation introduced and not vice versa,” Kolodin said. “And I’m glad she’s doing it for me.”
Ugenti-Rita wrote that she already contacted Gov. Doug Ducey, asking that he include the proposal for consideration in a special legislative session.
Existing Arizona law allows individuals to use deadly force to prevent arson of an occupied building, armed robbery, burglary, kidnapping, murder, assault, sexual assault and molestation.
Ugenti-Rita’s proposal would expand upon the existing law to allow for physical force or deadly force if a person believes it is needed to stop criminal damage to their property.
She specified that criminal damage includes “intentionally defacing or damaging property while knowingly possessing explosives, a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.”
Unlike the current law, there is no requirement the building be occupied.
Locally, Mayor Jim Lane declined to address Ugenti-Rita’s proposal.
“Even though I have some sympathy for this thinking, because I’ve watched our citizens arm themselves and stand in front of their property, whether that’s their business or their homes, and they have a right to do that…” Lane said.
He said there are many complicating factors like defining when deadly force is allowable versus just physical force.
“I know that’s not an answer because I’m not sure that I am really comfortable with the idea of getting into this at this time,” Lane said.
But Council member and mayoral candidate Virginia Korte was directly critical of Ugenti-Rita’s proposal.
Korte said she is a 2nd Amendment supporter, but said the state’s existing law already allows for the use of force in extreme circumstance.
“However, extending a legal ruling allowing the use of deadly force by business owners or managers to defend their commercial properties will only result in more lives lost, not safer communities,” Korte said.
“I believe lives are more important than property or tangible items – property can be repaired, stolen items can be replaced, lives cannot,” she added.
Other candidates said it was too soon to comment on Ugenti-Rita’s proposal because it was not yet an actual bill.
“I appreciate Senator Ugenti-Rita’s attempt to examine this problem and find potential solutions,” Klapp said. “It is premature to weigh in on her proposal without all of the details on the planned definitions and provisions.”
Former Councilman David Ortega, also a mayoral candidate, called it “premature” to speculate on the specifics of Ugenti-Rita’s proposal because the legislature is out of session and likely won’t take up a bill anytime soon.
“As the head of the Commerce Committee, I’m sure Senator Ugenti-Rita will use good judgment,” Ortega said.
Lisa Borowsky, a former council member running for mayor, said Ugenti-Rita’s proposal needed to be refined.
"I agree with providing business owners protection, however, the current proposal needs to be refined with respect to the existing proportionality requirement under Arizona law, meaning deadly force or the threat of deadly force may only be used if ones life, or another’s life, is reasonably believed to be in danger, including in their place of business," Borowsky said.
She has since spoken with Ugenti-Rita and offered to assist in crafting a proposal that would offer protection of commercial properties "but deadly force would not be included unless a life was threatened or at risk."
“I believe Senator Ugenti-Rita’s is on the right track with strengthening a business owner’s ability to protect their business and commercial property,” Borowsky said. “I have offered to assist her with her proposed legislation and provide support for achieving this goal.”
Ugenti-Rita’s plan has also drawn mixed reviews from local lawmakers and candidates for the Legislature.
Fountain Hills Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, who is running for re-election in LD23, said he supports the existing law and allowing property owners to display firearms in defense of their property but stopped short of endorsing Ugenti-Rita’s proposal.
He said he would like to see specifics of a bill and how exactly it differed from the existing law before commenting further.
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t have any problem with people being able to display weapons or firearms as a show… I think that’s fair warning to demonstrate that to the rioters,” said Kavanagh, a former police officer. “I have to see the exact language where she goes beyond that because it does get tricky there.”
But Scottsdale Democrat Eric Kurland, who is running for the Arizona Legislature against incumbents Kavanagh and Rep. Jay Lawrence, called Ugenti-Rita’s proposal dangerous.
“Her proposal will not only endanger innocent citizens, but also the police,” Kurland said. “Given that Arizona already allows for people to defend themselves with lethal force if necessary, this is a ready, shoot, aim kind of reaction that has no place in our government.…”
Democrat Seth Blattman, who is running for Ugenti-Rita’s senate seat, lives near Fashion Square and said Ugenti-Rita’s proposal would have resulted in bloodshed.
“There was property damage, there was theft and that’s a terrible thing and those people deserve to be arrested,” Blattman said. “But the fact that there was no loss of life or no major injury is a very good thing, and the law proposed would have resulted in something different.”
Kolodin pushed back on criticisms of the proposal, arguing that police failed to protect businesses in Scottsdale and put the livelihood of owners at risk.
“We always have this sort of hope to this expectation that if a mob comes to threaten our business, the police will protect it,” Kolodin said. “But as we’ve found out, sometimes for political reasons that doesn’t always happen and the frontline officers aren’t authorized to do that.”
On June 16, Councilman Guy Phillips asked city staff to conduct an investigation of the police response to the riot, citing an alleged stand-down order.
“Unfortunately, on May 30 there appeared to be a call during a publicized riot downtown for our officers to stand down,” Phillips said.
But Lane told the Progress he has seen no evidence that such an order was issued.
“I have no evidence that that’s what’s happened, and, in fact, it’s been explained to me vastly different,” Lane said.
The Police Department has admitted its initial response to the riot was overwhelmed after the drastically underestimating the number of people that would converge on the mall.
The department prioritized protecting occupied residential buildings in the area over the empty mall and nearby stores, according to statements by Lane and police.
The Council voted 6-1 on June 16 to direct city staff to prepare a report on police response to the riot, including whether or not a stand down order was issued.