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9 Utah cops disciplined, council wonders if it should be more

Published December 8, 2013 10:21 am

Corrections • Peace officer standards body to take a closer look at cases of excessive force.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • They were there to provide security, but video showed four Utah Department of Corrections officers stealing liquor from a party in Park City.

Three of the officers, Eli Ernest, Kyle J. Petersen and Kendrick J. Hawkes, received one-year suspensions of their police certifications on Friday. The punishments were issued at the quarterly meeting of the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

Six other peace officers had their certifications suspended or revoked Friday. But before the council considered their cases, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank asked why the council wasn't looking harder at excessive force cases.

Burbank said he's fired two officers whom the district attorney said violated Utah's use of force laws. The officers were not prosecuted.

Burbank said he reported their cases to the council, but no action was taken to suspend or revoke their police powers.

"It's our job to hold people accountable for their actions," Burbank, a member of the council, told his colleagues.

State law requires "clear and convincing" evidence a police officer broke the law before the council can take action. Some council members questioned whether a prosecutor's opinion was enough to meet that standard.

Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe, council chairman, asked staff to research how many use of force cases were reported and their outcomes and report the findings at the council's March meeting.

Other discipline cases heard Friday included Department of Corrections employee Russell Whittle. According to the report to the council, a pit bull was attacking his dog. Whittle broke up the attack, then tossed the pit bull against a wall. The pit bull had to be euthanized and Whittle was convicted of a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty. The council suspended his certification for six months.

Another corrections employee, Jason L. Johnson, huffed compressed air in his state car, passed out and crashed it into a pole, according to a report to the council. He received a three-year suspension.

The council issued a three-year suspension to Tooele County Constable James E. Houghtalen. He was found to have collected $150 from a party in a debt collection case and $300 in bail from a suspect, but did not submit the money or documentation to his employer.

The council tabled action against Utah Highway Patrol trooper Jon Gardner. The report said he was arrested on his motorcycle in Colorado on suspicion of impaired driving after a police officer smelled alcohol on his breath. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving. He has since retired from UHP.

The council's staff recommended a one-year suspension, but Ken Wallentine, chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General's Office, asked staff to investigate Gardner's past discipline history so the council could take that into consideration.

In 2007, Gardner shocked a motorist with a Taser in an episode that went viral on YouTube. An investigation determined Gardner broke no laws. UHP paid the motorist $40,000.

Other discipline cases Friday:

• Patrick S. Donegan, UHP, received a one-year suspension for falsifying his log to show he was stopping more motorists than he really was.

• Timothy K. Jones, UHP, received a two-year suspension for assaulting a man in a relationship with his then-wife.

• Jared J. Anderson, Department of Corrections, had his certification revoked for harassing a woman through text messaging and misleading investigators.

The Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council consists of police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement representatives from across the state. It meets quarterly to oversee the state's police academy and misconduct by officers already on the job.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle