MORONI—The firing of Robert Hill as police chief in Moroni triggered a volley of comments both lauding and lambasting him on social media Wednesday.
About 100 posts appeared on multiple Facebook pages; on a Change.org petition page; and on the Sanpete Indoor Yard Sale Facebook page, among other sites.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Messenger was still trying to reach Mayor Paul Bailey to see if he was willing to discuss the reasons for the termination.
The former chief’s wife, Alicia Hill, posted an eight-page letter on Facebook with the salutation, “Dear Moroni residents.”
She said Chief Hill had issued a traffic ticket to Bailey’s son on Sunday, July 13. Alicia Hill said her husband would ordinarily have given the son a warning. But, according to her, the son told Chief Hill that since his father was in law enforcement, he shouldn’t get a ticket, and during the encounter used abusive language. (Mayor Paul Bailey is also a Sanpete County sheriff’s deputy.)
Later the same day, according to Alicia Hill, Chief Hill stopped a car with a broken windshield, ran the female driver’s identification and found three counties, including Sanpete County, had warrants out for her arrest.
According to the wife’s account, as Chief Hill put handcuffs on the woman, she “tried to lunge away from him and into oncoming traffic… As she pulled away from him, he lowered her to the ground away from being hit… Observing that she was in mental distress, he spoke with her for a moment and then helped her away from the side of the road and to the back of her car.”
Alicia Hill said that was the incident that led to the chief’s dismissal. According to Alicia Hill, the day after the arrest, Mayor Bailey called Chief Hill in and told him he was being suspended on a “use-of-force” complaint. The wife said Bailey was not interested in conducting an investigation or interviewing witnesses who saw the arrest.
A closed meeting of the city council was held the next Thursday, Feb. 17. In her open letter to the community, Alicia Hill wrote that the day after the meeting, Friday, Feb. 18, Bailey called the chief in and told him he was terminating him based on complaints he had received.
According to Alicia Hill’s letter, the mayor told her husband that during the closed meeting, the city council had not asked for details but rather had deferred to the mayor’s judgment. Bailey told Chief Hill that under the contract between the chief and the city, the mayor could terminate him at will—and that’s what he was doing.
Alicia Hill also wrote that Mayor Bailey told her husband the city was going in a different direction and would be contracting with the Sheriff’s Office for police services rather than having its own officer.
But other Moroni residents, including a woman who called the Sanpete Messenger Wednesday, claimed there had been multiple incidents of Chief Hill manhandling or harassing people in the community.
The caller to the Messenger, Floralyn Martinez, who said she suffers from panic attacks, said the city treasurer had asked her to come to the city hall last October to discuss a $700 water bill. Martinez said the visit ended with Chief Hill walking her down the hall, slamming her head and body against the wall, handcuffing and arresting her.
Martinez said she is in the process of filing a complaint against Hill with Utah Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), the agency that certifies and has the power to de-certify police officers.
After her experience, Martinez said she learned Hill had roughed up an elderly man in his store. She did not have the man’s name or details of that incident at the time she called the newspaper.
In another Facebook post, Desserin Reyes wrote, “He harassed my brother for driving a truck with the Mexican flag on it and told him anytime he saw him, he was going to get pulled over, and [he] as going to give him as many tickets as he could. My dad drove it [the truck] a couple of times, and you sure bet, he got pulled over left and right.”
Various other posts portrayed the former chief as a hero or a bully.
Mandy Varejcka wrote, “I have worked with Officer Hill for the last year and a half. He is a man with integrity, and he did an amazing job with our town… He worked more hours than anyone realizes, more hours than he should have. Bob…you should be proud of the work you did. Don’t listen to the haters.
But Anthony Martinez complained about “all of the lies he’s told to get innocent people charged. All of the people Bob has targeted for belonging to certain families. Or how about the multiple instances of Hill brutally assaulting members of the community during calls instead of deescalating the situation. The fact [is], a large part of our community has hated him since he became police chief.”