Rasmussen has failed to investigate or document many important cases, Messenger sources say

 

Suzanne Dean

Publisher

7/6/2017

 

EPHRAIM—Anybody who has a passing acquaintance with police work knows there are two elements to the job.

The first is investigations. Officers respond to citizen complaints or observe things on their own, take statements, gather evidence and try to figure out, if it’s not obvious, who committed a crime or offense.

The second is documentation. Officers write down complainant names, dates of birth, narratives of what happened, findings of drug or sobriety tests or anything else relevant to a violation or possible violation of law.

Case documentation is essential for two reasons. Without it, no criminal prosecution can be initiated. Moreover, information in one case may relate to the next case. Officers have to have a record in order to connect the dots.

For a community to be safe, and for justice to be meted out, you have to have both. But according to multiple sources with first-hand knowledge, Chief Ron Rasmussen of Ephraim has rarely done any aggressive investigation in more than 1,626 cases he has handled over the past 10 years.

Moreover, he has failed to document many, if not most, of those cases. No one knows for sure how many. Going forward, the Sanpete Messenger intends to search as many police records as necessary to establish the number.

The cases with “empty” reports were originally dispatched as domestic violence, child sex abuse, DUI, cocaine possession and a suicidal victim jumping out of a moving vehicle and getting run over, to name a few.

“If you dig,” one source said, “every month you will find something that will absolutely make your jaw hit the floor.”

Ordinarily, the Messenger does not use unnamed sources. But like most media, the Messenger will use them if it is the only way to obtain information that affects the welfare of the community. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the time a call is dispatched, it is automatically assigned a case number. Most or all documentation related to the incident is supposed to be entered into the computer system under that case number.

In Ephraim, line officers report to Sgt. Len Gasser, who, like Rasmussen, has been with the department for more than 25 years. The three line officers who recently resigned from the department reported to Gasser. The sergeant’s duties include reviewing and approving all police reports, and if indicated, closing cases.

One source reported hearing Gasser declare that at one point there were more than 500 reports in the system, assigned to Rasmussen, that were “empty” of information.

Another source said that in early June, when city management started looking seriously at the documentation problem, Rasmussen had more than 200 open cases in the system with minimal or no documentation.

Periodically, sources said, Gasser would go into the system, approve and close “empty” cases, while entering notes such as “This case will be cleared to help clear up the screen” and “This case to be cleared with the chief’s OK.”

Such action, some sources say, amounts to Gasser colluding with Rasmussen’s negligence.

But the problem goes much deeper than being behind on “paperwork.” The sources say Rasmussen not only failed to document case after case. He took no action on many or most of them. He didn’t interview suspects or make arrests. And since there was no documentation, no one questioned the inaction.

One case involved a woman who ran a beauty shop in her home. She believed a client was stealing from her and told her story to Rasmussen. She also set up a camera in her shop. The next time the client came in the client did, in fact steal and was caught on camera.

“She reports to Ron,” the source said. “Nothing’s done. The person’s not interviewed, the person’s not arrested, the person’s not charged.” The victim complained to a city council member.

According to another source, on Nov. 18, 2016, Rasmussen responded to a domestic violence assault. A man choked his female partner for 8-10 seconds. In accordance with law, Rasmussen arrested the man and took him to jail.

A defense attorney got involved in the case. On Dec. 16, 2016, the attorney requested the police report. There was no report. On Jan. 17, 2017, a judge dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning it can be filed again if there’s more evidence. According to one of the Messenger sources, Rasmussen went into the system on Jan. 24, 2017, seven days after the dismissal, and started typing in a report for the first time.

The fact that Rasmussen is a popular, even beloved figure in Ephraim was reflected in the outpouring of support he received at a city council meeting Wednesday, June 21 and on public reaction to police officer resignations.

But Messenger sources paint a more complex picture. They say over the 27 years Rasmussen has worked for Ephraim, the city has grown, and police work has become more complex and demanding. But Rasmussen, they say, has not grown with his position.

The sources say he does not have the education, experience or skills in police work to handle the job he’s in. And they said a leadership training course, which the city is proposing to send him to, won’t fix the problem.

“He may be a good father and a good husband,” one of the Messenger sources said. “But he’s not suited to be a cop, let alone a police chief.”

Another source said the chief puts a lot of effort, possibly his primary effort, into keeping up his image. “And it’s all image; it’s all falsities.”

And, multiple sources say, Rasmussen is lazy. “When they print ‘overworked,’ it makes us sick,” one source said.

Another said, “He’s never put forth any effort in 27 years. He never really has.”

Generally, the sources contend Rasmussen was reinstated because of the public pressure at the city council meeting, not based on the facts of the case.

City Manager Brant Hanson says the reinstatement reflected a finding that Rasmussen’s shortcomings were not criminal and that, aside from the reporting issue, Rasmussen is a “great chief.”