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Iron County citizens investigating police, government

Published November 3, 2012 8:08 pm

Complaints • Review board probing alleged misconduct by officers.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cedar City • Standing before about 25 people at a meeting room in the library here, Dan Weber recalled a recent meeting with the Iron County clerk.

Weber asked the clerk if it was true the county's prosecuting attorney had input on whom Iron County hired to be the public defender, an arrangement Weber considers to be a conflict of interest. The clerk said yes, then, Weber recalled, said, "But we don't have a problem here in Iron County."

Weber paused before telling his audience, "I looked him back in the eye and said, 'Yes, we do.' "

Weber recited the encounter Thursday as he was leading a meeting of the Iron County Citizens Review Board — only the second of its kind in the state.

The review board, which has been meeting since spring, was formed to investigate what the supporters believe is misconduct and corruption among the police within Iron County. Someone with a complaint against the police can go to the review board's website and complete a form requesting an investigation.

But the supporters don't seem to want to stop there. In a poll conducted at one of its meetings, a plurality of respondents wanted an investigation of Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett and his office to be a priority for the board. Garrett did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

At Thursday's meeting, after addressing concerns about criminal defense for the indigent, Weber pointed to state data showing that the Utah Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) is more likely to remove children from parents in Iron County than they are from counties along the Wasatch Front. Weber said the board will send letters to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and the head of DCFS asking why.

"We're supposed to be focused on law enforcement, but we're willing to represent you wherever you want us," Weber told the audience.

The board traces its roots to the website Ironcountycorruption.com that accuses police and Garrett of civil rights abuses. There's no indication any of the accusations have been substantiated.

The website's administrators recruited other Iron County residents, including Weber, to form the board. Most of the people behind the website left, fearing it would hurt the board if it appeared its members were out for retribution, Weber said.

Weber, a 50-year-old employee of the Federal Aviation Administration who pronounces his surname with a short E, also came to the board after a bad experience with the law. In 2009, Cedar City police investigating a theft obtained a warrant to search Weber's son's home. Police found no evidence of the theft but did find an old baby-food jar containing a small amount a marijuana.

In a closet in another room, Weber said, police found a terrarium with soil in it. There was nothing in the soil, Weber said, but the Iron County Attorney's Office charged Christopher Weber with a felony count of cultivating marijuana and a count of child endangerment. Christopher Weber lived in the home with his fianceé and infant daughter.

Before one of Christopher Weber's court hearings, the elder Weber claims he heard the prosecutor tell a police officer she had no evidence. Yet the prosecution proceeded, while Christopher Weber remained in jail. The family hired an attorney. The case was resolved when Christopher Weber accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of intent to cultivate marijuana and attempted child endangerment. He received credit for jail time he already served.

The only other citizen body in the state that investigates complaints against police is the Salt Lake City Civilian Review Board.

A few Washington County residents tried to start a review board in St. George a few years ago but abandoned the effort when not enough people wanted to participate.

Salt Lake City's review board is sanctioned by city government, has a retired FBI agent as a paid investigator, an office in a city building and a city-allocated budget. The Iron County Citizens Review Board has none of that.

But the board does have one important ally. Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower attended Thursday's meeting. Gower has agreed to work with the board to investigate complaints against his deputies and share the results. The board is in the process of contacting the city police chiefs in the county. Gower is writing the board a letter of introduction.

At Thursday's meeting, one man complained to Gower that sheriff's deputies had pulled over his 18-year-old son for a headlight that didn't work, told the teenager he seemed too calm and made him undergo field sobriety tests 15 times, all of which he passed.

The man said he has been asking for video of the traffic stop, but the sheriff's office claimed it didn't exist.

"I'd be glad, if I can get more information, to look into that," Gower said, adding that the video should still be retained among the department's evidence.

The man continued to question Gower about why someone from the sheriff's office would tell him the video no longer exists and how Gower couldn't already know about this case.

Craig Spitler, another review board member, turned to the man and said, "We're not here to air accusations."

"Well, I am," the man replied.

The monthly meeting ended after 90 minutes. As other attendees filed out of the library or visited with each other over cookies, Weber acknowledged the board's mission was getting broad and somewhat ambiguous.

"We're trying to search for our focus," Weber said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle