MORONI—A Moroni woman who suffers from a traumatic brain injury says an encounter with the town’s former police chief on Oct. 14, 2021 changed her life forever.
The worst part, Floralyn Martinez says, was former Chief Robert Hill slamming her against a wall in the Moroni City Hall, forcefully pushing her to the floor and then putting handcuffs on her so tightly her hands started turning blue.
To add insult to injury, when Floralyn contacted Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), the state agency responsible for police officer discipline, she was told that before she could file a complaint, she needed to communicate her concerns to Moroni City and the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office.
She made multiple calls to both offices. They were not returned. She is still in the process of filing her complaint with POST.
Four months after Floralyn Martinez’s encounter, on Feb. 13, Super Bowl Sunday, another woman apparently had a similar experience. That’s when Mayor Paul Bailey of Moroni let the Martinezes know he believed their story.
The woman in the second case did not respond to invitations sent through a third party to speak to the Messenger. But Marcos Martinez gave the Messenger a tape of a conversation he’d had with Bailey several days after the second incident.
“Is the other lady okay?” Marcos asked.
“Yeah, but she was just like your wife,” the mayor said. “She got thrown on the road. Her husband was on the phone with her when Bob stopped her and ripped her out of the car. Just a bad deal. They were as upset as you guys were.”
Five days after the second incident, Bailey called Hill in and fired him. The grounds were “excessive use of force.”
In the wake of the firing, another woman, Raquel Dyches Carter, started a petition supporting Mayor Bailey’s action in firing Hill. Carter told the Messenger the former chief had never been physically aggressive with her or her husband, but both of them “feel like we have been profiled and harassed” by former Chief Hill.
She said in the approximately 18 months between when Hill became Moroni police chief and when he was fired, he pulled her over when she was driving alone, or when she and her husband were together, 15 times. He never issued a ticket on any of the stops.
“I went to Mayor Bailey in the summer and expressed my concerns,” she says.
But the most egregious case apparently involved Floralyn Martinez. She says when she was 12 years old, she fell off a horse at full gallop and sustained permanent head injuries. She has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks ever since.
Events leading to her confrontation with the former chief started when her teenage children were watering horses on the Martinez’s one-acre property and left the water running.
“I get up the next morning, and there’s water everywhere,” he says. “We’ve got a lake in our backyard.”
An employee from the Moroni Public Works Department came to the house and told the Martinezes they had used as much water as the Moroni Elementary School. The charges came to $1,250.
He said Moroni would probably take $300 off the bill. Floralyn says the worker told her the city would probably split the rest of the bill into two or three payments.
Floralyn told the city employee, “I can do that,” and made a partial payment.
The next thing that happened was the city treasurer calling her to tell her she had 10 days to pay $700 or her water would be shut off and the balance would go from $700 back to the original $1,250.
The call triggered a panic attack, Floralyn says. When she has a panic attack, she says, she has symptoms similar to Tourette’s syndrome. She swore at the treasurer over the phone.
“The ‘F’ word comes out. And I despise that word. But when I’m having a full panic attack, I have no control over it…The other part of my panic attack was apologizing for using that word.”
She tried to explain on the phone what she was going through. She says the treasurer seemed sympathetic. The treasurer said she would call the city councilman who oversees culinary water and ask him to meet Floralyn at the city hall.
“Apparently, when she got off the phone, she never called the city councilman,” Floralyn says. “She just called the police. She felt threatened because I had used the ‘F’ word too many times.”
When Floralyn got to city hall, she spent 15 minutes sitting outside in her pickup trying to calm down. When she went in the building, the treasurer asked her how she was doing. She replied that she had calmed down quite a bit but was still distressed about the bill.
Suddenly Officer Hill “stepped right in between us,” she says. “I said to him, ‘Are you the city councilman I’m supposed to talk to?”
She says the officer used a belligerent tone right off the bat. According to her, Hill asked her what she wanted to do about the situation. She explained she had been working with the public works employee who told her she could make payments on the water bill. Hill told her, in her words, “It sounds like it’s your problem, and you’re the one who screwed up.”
Floralyn says she responded that Hill didn’t have a right to talk to her that way or to ‘f’-ing’ cut her off in the middle of her answer. “I did use the ‘F’ word with him because I was going back into a [panic] attack,” she says. “I was getting scared…” Suddenly, she says, Hill started talking into a microphone around his neck, saying repeatedly, “White female attacking me.”
“He grabbed me…,” she says, “but instead of taking me toward the door, he takes me further down the hall [a central hallway that runs from the lobby of the Moroni City Hall to the back of the building], slams me against the wall, forces me down on the ground…He was already holding my hands. He just pushed me down.
“He had the cuffs so tight on me,” she says. “I said, ‘You’re hurting me. I can’t feel my hands. You can’t do this to me. It’s against the law.’” She says Hill responded, “Good luck with that. It’ll be your word against mine.”
When a sheriff’s deputy arrived to provide backup, “Officer Hill’s whole attitude changed 180 [degrees],” Floralyn says. “He became a very different person.”
Ultimately, a third officer, Chief Steve Grey of the Fairview Police Department, a former Moroni chief, also arrived to provide backup.
The sheriff’s deputy told Hill to take the handcuffs off because Floralyn’s hands were turning blue. He also called an ambulance. EMTs with the ambulance crew said her heart rate and blood pressure were too high.
During the encounter, Floralyn had reached Marcos, who was working in Morgan, on the phone. He heard her screaming and crying and Chief Hill telling her repeatedly to “shut up.” Marcos called their adult son and adult daughter and son-in-law, who live in the Moroni-Wales area.
Floralyn said she couldn’t afford an ambulance ride, so the ambulance crew released her to her son-in-law. He ended up taking her to the emergency room at Sanpete Valley Hospital, where she was given a tranquilizer.
Floralyn says one of the symptoms of her brain injury is “cycling.” When a stressful incident happens, her mind goes over it again and again. “And when I got to the point where he [Hill] was hurting me, I started screaming and crying, and I couldn’t stop.”
“Four days straight, she cried,” her husband says. “Four straight days. It was horrible. She’d close her eyes, then wake up. As soon as her eyes were open, she’d bawl.”
There are security cameras in the Moroni city treasurer’s office and in the hallway where Hill and Floralyn had their confrontation. Marcos Martinez filed a GRAMA request (a request under the Utah open records law) for videotape of his wife’s incident. He was told the cameras weren’t working that day.
The computers, the phones, everything in the building was working, everything but the cameras, Marcos Martinez says, adding, “I don’t buy it.” As for Chief Hill, he had a body cam but wasn’t wearing it at the time of the incident.
Floralyn, who says she has never been arrested and hasn’t had a traffic ticket in years, is facing charges in Moroni municipal court of disturbing the peace, interfering with an officer, and trespassing.
Since the incident, she says, she has been through additional therapy but still feels fearful all the time and has terrible headaches. “I’m not the same person,” she says. “He took my life.”