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Court of Appeals: South Jordan officer was properly fired

Published February 6, 2014 5:31 pm

Appeal • Board's decision to affirm officer Brett Perez's firing is upheld.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A South Jordan police officer accused of mishandling a high-speed chase was properly fired after the incident, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

After reviewing the May 2009 incident and three other disciplinary actions in former officer Brett Perez's file, the appeals court sided with the South Jordan City Appeal Board's decision to affirm his termination.

Perez, a 14-year veteran of the department, was fired by the city on Nov. 12, 2009, for allegedly violating the city's high-speed chase policy incident.

Perez allegedly failed to activate his lights and siren while speeding, and later failed to activate his siren while passing through a red light at an intersection, while on a high-speed chase with 41-year-old Wade Pennington on May 28, 2009.

Perez and another South Jordan officer, Jared Nichols, eventually caught up with Pennington on a dead-end street and rammed their vehicles into Pennington's. Both officers exited their vehicles, according to the appeals court, and drew their weapons. Nichols shot Pennington twice after he "continued to try to escape," according to the court opinion. Pennington died from the wounds.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller ruled the shooting was justified, but Pennington's parents leveled a million dollar federal lawsuit against the cops and the district attorney in 2010, alleging the police used excessive force and that there was not a proper investigation after the fatal shooting. The lawsuit was dismissed — at the stipulation of both parties — last January.

The appeals court's Thursday decision did not address the fatal shooting, just Perez's alleged mishandling of the high speed chase prior to when shots were fired.

After Perez was fired by the city in November 2009, he appealed the termination to the South Jordan City Appeal Board, which hears the cases of city employees who believe they've been wrongfully terminated. The board upheld the police chief's decision to fire Perez, who then appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals to reverse the city board's decision.

Perez argued that the termination was not proportional to the violations committed and was inconsistent with sanctions imposed on other officers in similar circumstances. The appeals board found, however, that given Perez's disciplinary history — which included an April 2008 suspension, a July 2008 demotion and a May 2009 verbal admonition — the police chief's decision to terminate the officer had adequate support.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller —

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