Attorney: Utah cop ‘defamed’ by Gay Pride Parade conflict
Published: June 9, 2014 09:39PM
Updated: June 10, 2014 11:01AM
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Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Mormons for Equality marches in the Salt Lake City Pride Parade, Sunday, June 7, 2014.

A Salt Lake City police officer says the department defamed him and violated his rights when he was put on leave after a conflict over his assignment at Sunday’s Utah Pride Parade.

“He feels that the same protections that afford individuals to participate in a parade like we had yesterday, are the very constitutional protections that were not afforded to him,” Bret Rawson, the officer’s attorney, said Monday.

The police department and Rawson have not identified the officer, who made national news last week when the department told The Salt Lake Tribune he had been put on leave for refusing to work an assignment at the annual gay pride parade.

Rawson said the officer did not refuse his assignment — to join other motorcycle officers in choreographed maneuvers at the beginning of the parade — but instead asked his commanders for a “less conspicuous” role at the parade, such as traffic enforcement or security.

“The officer simply felt that the level of participation required in the event could be perceived as endorsing or advocating in favor of the LGBTQ community, a position which made him uncomfortable, given his personal and religious beliefs,” Rawson wrote.

“He never refused to do his job,” Rawson added in an interview Monday. “He specified that if he was required to do [the motorcycle assignment], he would do that. So he was very surprised that he was put on administrative leave.”

Being put on leave and at the center of a “media circus” amounts to “constructive termination,” Rawson said — although the officer has not resigned and the department has not officially fired him.

“No reasonable, rational person could stay at work under these circumstances,” Rawson said.

The attorney said the officer has not decided what his next steps will be or whether he would challenge the department’s actions.

Police spokeswoman Lara Jones said Monday: “Having received notice of pending litigation, we’ll be unable to comment” on the officer’s claims. Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond said the city received correspondence with “the implication that litigation will be forthcoming.”

Jones would not discuss details of the officer’s alleged refusal of the assignment or whether it entailed duties apart from the choreographed motorcycle maneuvers.

The officer joined the motorcycle squad within the past year, Rawson said, and previously had not been approached to ride at the beginning of the parade.

On Friday, Jones had confirmed that internal affairs officers were investigating the officer’s alleged refusal to work the parade.

Jones then also told The Tribune: “The vast majority of officers, when they come to work, they understand that they leave their personal opinions at home and serve the community.”

Jones added, “We have gay men and women that serve in the police department. One officer’s situation does not reflect the vast majority of officers that work in the Salt Lake City Police Department, and certainly not Chief [Chris] Burbank’s.”

ealberty@sltrib.com