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Arizona gallery owner won't be charged in racist rant against Native American dancers

Gilbert Ortega's Authentic Indian Art Galleries in Scottsdale, Ariz., is seen closed on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. Native American dancers who were the target of a suburban Phoenix gallery owner's racist rant as they were being filmed for Super Bowl week are pushing for hate crime charges. Gilbert Ortega Jr., the owner of Gilbert Ortega Native American Galleries, has been charged with three misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct regarding the incident, Scottsdale police said.
Alina Hartounian
AP Photo
Gilbert Ortega's Authentic Indian Art Galleries in Scottsdale, Ariz., is seen closed on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023.

Scottsdale authorities will not pursue criminal charges against a gallery owner whose racist rant last year was caught on video while Native American dancers were being filmed.

Officials in Scottsdale called the confrontation last February "a nauseating example" of bigotry but said that Gilbert Ortega Jr.'s actions did not amount to a crime with a "reasonable likelihood of conviction."

Ortega, the owner of Gilbert Ortega Native American Galleries, had been facing three misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct in connection with the confrontation in Old Town Scottsdale ahead of last year's Super Bowl game.

A message left Friday at a phone number listed for Ortega's gallery was not immediately returned.

The Scottsdale city attorney's office said Friday in a statement that it closed its investigation after reviewing evidence in the case, including cellphone and surveillance videos and police reports. The FBI also assisted in the investigation.

"The suspect's behavior was vulgar, very upsetting to all those involved, and tarnished the reputation of the Scottsdale community," the city attorney's office said. "However, the incident did not rise to the point of criminality."

A group of dancers had been performing in front of the Native Art Market on Main Street as ESPN filmed the group and had them pose by a Super Bowl sign. That's when Ortega started yelling at them, authorities said.

In the video, which gained traction last year on social media, Ortega can be seen mocking the dancers and yelling "you (expletive) Indians" at one point.

According to the city attorney's office, a Navajo speaker in the office and the FBI both concluded that comments made by Ortega to the dancers in Navajo weren't threatening and therefore did not support additional charges being filed.

In Arizona, there is no law specific to a hate crime. It can be used as an aggravating circumstance in a crime motivated by bias against a person's race, religion, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

"While the legal review has concluded, it is clear that the conduct as recorded on video in this incident was a nauseating example of the bigotry that sadly can still be found in this country," the city said Friday in a statement. "Our community rejects racism and hate speech in all its forms, instead choosing to embrace and celebrate a Scottsdale that welcomes and respects all people."