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Report comes out as expected; attorney says document ‘replete with hypocrisy’

 

John Hales

Staff writer

7/20/2017

 

Click to read 24-page investigative report (minus portions redacted by a law firm hired by Ephraim City).

 

EPHRAIM—The key findings in a Utah County Sheriff’s Office investigative report made public on Friday, July 14 were already known before the report came out.

For instance, the report found that Ephraim Police Chief Ron Rasmussen’s failure to file full incident reports on calls he responded to was not criminal. That finding was an important basis for Rasmussen’s reinstatement on June 28.

The 50-page report summarized interviews and data investigators, headed by Lt. Matthew Higley, gathered during an approximately one-week review of the Ephraim Police Department.

However, the report is being vehemently criticized by an attorney representing the three Ephraim police officers whose complaints about Rasmussen’s performance led to the investigation. The officers resigned in protest after they learned the chief was to be reinstated.

Besides the finding of no criminality on Rasmussen’s part, the report said there were lapses in the line officers following chain of command, that the police department was understaffed, and that the chief should not have been going on calls himself.

The report also said the department was woefully lacking in established policies; that officers had, in the past, unplugged their vehicles’ GPS devices; and that there were administrative and officer-safety concerns.

Another finding that stood out was that one of the resigning officers, Darren Pead, “is and has been very insubordinate on several occasions.”

The suggestion of insubordination primarily grew out of Pead’s disagreement with Rasmussen and Ephraim Police Sgt. Len Gasser about a report-writing template, which the report says Pead refused to use even when ordered to do so at the end of May.

Meanwhile, although the basis for the investigation was Rasmussen’s incomplete reports, the report did not appear to probe that allegation in depth.

Investigators requested a list of every report listed as “incomplete” since 2007. There were only 272 of them, a far cry from the upwards of 1,000 that had been speculated.

But that list, as it became clear in Sanpete Messenger discussions with law-enforcement professionals, would more accurately be described as “unapproved” reports.

In alleging inadequate reporting, the officers who resigned said they observed many reports written by the chief that were insufficient, some of which had little more than the date of the incident and names of the complainants but no narrative explaining what had happened.

But according to the officers, after time passed, and Rasmussen failed to add any detail to the reports, Sgt. Gasser, whose job in the Police Department included approving or disapproving incident reports, approved the sketchy Rasmussen reports. Since the reports were technically approved, they would not have been in the “incomplete” category, as defined by investigators.

Reports from officers

Other than the 272 incomplete and unapproved reports, Utah County investigators examined two reports selected at random from each officer, plus the report of one case publicized via social media, a child sexual abuse case from 2012.

The only other incomplete reports the investigators looked at were any for cases assigned to Rasmussen, left incomplete, and later requested by outside parties. There were three of those.

Meanwhile, the investigators looked at four reports from Pead which, they stated, showed evidence of insubordination either through “inappropriate and unprofessional language,” or through his failure to use the mandated template.

Both Ephraim City Manager Brant Hanson and Utah County’s chief investigator on the case, Lt. Matthew Higley, told the Messenger the city gave very little direction to the investigation.

City gave little input

“When we first met with the mayor and the city manager, they said they wanted a very thorough and complete investigation,” Higley said Monday. “They listed a couple of the concerns, and said, ‘Have at it.’ The mayor and city manager had very little input on how our investigation went.”

Higley wrote in the report that the city “wanted to keep everyone on staff and just change the culture,” but also that “they wanted a thorough investigation, both criminally and internally.

Hanson told the Messenger, “We wanted to know everything that was going on.”

But it turns out that at the outset, the city manager also told investigators he was concerned that Pead had accessed criminal background-check information on himself and Mayor Richard Squire. That suspicion turned out to be false and the Utah County investigative report states as much.

Asked by the Messenger if he still had concerns about that allegation, Higley said, “No, no concerns. None whatsoever on that issue.”

Following release of the report, Bret Rawson, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police in Utah, who represents the three officers who resigned, said the report, and by inference, the investigation itself, was far less than adequate.

“It’s just replete with hypocrisy,” Rawson said Tuesday in a conversation with the Messenger.

Rawson, was especially troubled by the finding that Pead had been insubordinate, although he said such an accusation was perhaps to be expected.

“In the history of whistleblowing, where you’re whistleblowing against a supervisor or quote-unquote boss, when is it ever considered anything other than insubordination,” Rawson said Tuesday.

Not objective

In fact, Rawson indicated that from the get-go, investigation was not objective.  Interviews with each Ephraim City employee, he said, began with the reading of “Garrity.”

Garrity is a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prevents statements made by police and other municipal officers during internal investigations from being used as the basis for criminal charges against the officers. The idea is to give people complete freedom to tell the truth.

In the case of law enforcement officers, lying under Garrity is punishable by decertification from POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training).
“Garrity is typically given to the target of the investigation,” Rawson said. “I felt my clients should not be treated as targets of anything, given they were the people coming forward with a complaint against their administration.”

All three of the officers said they were shocked at what they felt was the selectivity of information the report contained.

“They left out so much of what I told them. It’s insane,” said Larry Golding, who worked for the Ephraim Police Department for 20 years.

Criminal probe

“We asked for a criminal investigation,” former officer Pead said. “Because of that, they decide to attack all of us.”

Two other people the Messenger spoke with expressed concern about the type of questions asked in investigative interviews and about how their interviews were characterized in the report.

Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson, for one, said questions he was asked, rather than being open-ended, were “very specific.”

Not open-ended

The report suggests that Nielson answered an open question about “Ephraim officers” in general by saying he “was concerned about Officer Pead” and then offered criticisms of Pead , a former sheriff’s deputy, that characterized him as insubordinate or a loose cannon.

But to the Messenger on Monday, Nielson said, it was the Utah County investigators who brought up Pead.

“They had focused the point of their investigation. The questions they asked are not in the report, but they should be,” Nielson said. “I was interviewed late in the process, and when they came to me they had very specific questions that they asked.”

Rawson said there was nothing in the personnel histories of his clients, including Pead’s at the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office, to suggest administrative or disciplinary actions or findings, “So it’s surprising to me that the sheriff would suggest anything to the contrary.”

In the other case, an official in law enforcement in the county said he told investigators he had had nothing but good professional interactions or experiences with Officer Pead, but that the report seemed cast his statements in a negative light that he never intended. (Although the official confirmed that he had been interviewed during the investigation, the Messenger is not reporting the person’s name, since the name was redacted from the report.)

Story not over

Rawson said the story of the Ephraim police investigation is far from over.

“My intention is to obtain the entire investigation including all audio…so that we can make a comparison between evidence and testimony that was provided to Utah County, and the resulting report.”

Ephraim City, however, sees release of the full report as vindication for standing by Rasmussen, which it still does, City Manager Hanson and Mayor Squire said this week.

In the report, several witnesses describe Chief Rasmussen very similarly to the way Sgt. Len Gasser did: “The most honest person I know, full of integrity.”

Trista Jordan, the department’s secretary, is quoted in the report as saying that “Rasmussen deals with the public extremely well…The chief is really good with people, but not with paperwork.”

“I think the report speaks for itself,” Mayor Squire said Tuesday. “As the council looked at that report in its entirety, we did what we thought just and prudent for the community.”

He said the city council and his administration are committed to making sure changes recommended in the report are implemented. And he assured that there would be a review to assess those changes in five months.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re in the situation that we are,” the mayor said. “This could have been handled administratively, but we are where we are, and Ephraim City is committed to moving forward and making the Police Department a strong department, and that’s where we are—moving forward.”

Hanson said a recent police job-applicant told interviewers the reason he was in police work was because of Chief Rasmussen.

“He was young,” Hanson said, “He stole a bicycle.”

As the story goes, Rasmussen sat the young man down in his police vehicle and asked what if someone stole something of his. How would he feel?

“The way Chief Rasmussen spoke to him and worked with him, that changed everything,” Hanson said. “I think that was an important story to hear, and those are stories we’re not hearing a lot of.”

The Messenger reached out to both Chief Rasmussen and Sgt. Gasser for comment and reaction by both phone and email, and received no response as of press time.