Friday, November 21, 2014

Cases November 10 through 22

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Troubling Myton Police Chief Case: Did Myton Do All It Could?

Recently, Myton, a small city located in Duchesne County, has come under scrutiny for hiring as a police chief a former police officer that had a long history of criminal stalking charges filed against him.  The history is detailed in a recent Deseret News Article entitled "Did undocumented stalking allegations help officer land new jobs?"

Interestingly, had all of the previous law enforcement agencies who had employed him and Myton followed section 53-14-101 of the Utah Code, Myton should have been alerted to the conduct of the law enforcement officer in the initial application process.  Section 53-14-101(2) and (4) of the code requires any current or former employer to provide significant details to any law enforcement agency or police academy regarding previous conduct---information not usually available to most other employers.  Specifically, the information includes:

  • All written evaluations of the performance of the applicant
  • A record of disciplinary action taken against the applicant
  • A statement regarding whether the former employer would rehire an applicant and, if not, why
  • A record setting forth the reason for the applicant's termination, whether voluntary or involuntary
  • The record of any final action regarding peace officer certification that is based on an applicant's certification

  •  Notice of any pending or ongoing investigation regarding the applicant's peace officer certification.
While many may think that a peace officer may avoid the requirements of disclosure by resigning before any final action is taken, other sections of the Utah code contemplate such a situation and, when construed together with section 53-14-101, do not allow such an outcome. The head of a law enforcement agency "who is made aware of an allegation against a police officer employed by that agency that involves conduct [such as alleged in the Myton case] . . . shall investigate the allegation and report to [POST] if the allegation is found to be true.”  Utah Code § 53-6-211(6).  Moreover, “[w]hen a peace officer’s employment terminates, the employing agency shall submit a change of status form noting the termination of the peace officer to the division.”  Utah Code § 53-6-209(1).  The form must be completed within seven days and, among other things, “identify the circumstances of the peace officer’s status change by indicating that the peace officer has resigned, retired, terminated, transferred, deceased, or that the peace officer’s name has changed.”  Utah Code § 53-6-209(2).  That change of status form requires the disclosure of whether the person resigned during a pending investigation.  And, if the law enforcement agency “intentionally falsifies, misrepresents, or fails to give notice of the change of status of a peace officer” he “is liable to the division for any damages that may be sustained by the failure to make the notification.”  Utah Code § 53-6-209(3).

Given these provisions of Utah Code, one wonders if Myton requested all available information and, if it did, whether other law enforcement agencies fulfilled their reporting obligations under the statute.  In any event, if everyone had adhered to existing law and if Myton had availed itself of its statutory rights to inquire, Myton most likely could have avoided hiring this particular police chief.