Provo officials were at least somewhat concerned about a stop in John King’s career before he took over as the city’s police chief in late 2013.
King spent three years as chief in Gaithersburg, Md. — then abruptly resigned in 2010. Emails obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune show that Provo officials and a California hiring firm, CityGate Associates, had discussed the departure and pondered whether they needed to dig into it further before giving King the job.
King ultimately got the job, at an annual salary of about $115,000. His hiring process has become relevant now, nearly five years later, due to a new lawsuit that says the city failed to do its due diligence before bringing him to Utah. The lawsuit, brought by five women, says King sexually harassed them, and that Provo should have discovered similar sexual misconduct in King’s past. King was ultimately forced out of the job last year, after sexual assault complaints were leveled against him.
The city responded to that suit Thursday, saying its vetting of King, carried out by CityGate, had turned up nothing concerning.
“Information the city received about Mr. King from these professionals was positive,” said the attorney representing Provo, Heather White, at a Thursday news conference. She added that media searches on King “revealed nothing problematic,” including anything that was “explicit about any type of harassment or intimidation” in King’s past.
White said city officials had missed a Baltimore Sun report that said King abruptly resigned from a top position in Baltimore in 2012 and was escorted from his office in that city’s department. The Tribune last year reported, citing public records, that King had been forced out of the Baltimore job due to an allegation that he had sexually assaulted a co-worker.
CityGate has not responded to Tribune requests for comment.
The Provo emails show that city officials had been wary of King’s stint in Gaithersburg.
Wayne Parker, the city’s chief administrative officer, wrote in a September 2013 email to then-Mayor John Curtis and Gary Bushman, who was the city’s human resources manager, that he was trying to find another Gaithersburg reference for King in order to “get to the bottom of the termination question.”
Bushman several days later sent Curtis — now a member of Congress — a Washington Post article, along with a “speculative” comments section, focused on King’s Gaithersburg resignation. A CityGate employee who conducted the search later said in an email to Provo human resources that he was not worried about it.
CityGate apparently charged Provo about $10,000 for its services to find and vet a new police chief, according to a letter of engagement. According to the letter, the firm conducted “comprehensive face-to-face interviews” with top applicants, conducted preliminary reference checks, and looked for relevant newspaper articles and online information.
It conducted a final vetting with Provo before King was appointed, and, according to the documents, an FBI background check on King did not produce major red flags.
The company did note, again, that King had been let go in Gaithersburg, and that the issue was something that needed to be “carefully explored.” The firm also reported that King had been the subject of an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office regarding a disability retirement granted to him by Montgomery County, Md. Criminal charges in that case were never filed.
It was unclear whether Provo or CityGate ever got to the bottom of the Gaithersburg resignation.
“The background investigator’s report is on your desk for review,” Bushman wrote to Curtis in November. “No significant items.”
“I’m ready to move forward,” Curtis replied. “Thanks once again for an outstanding process. I’m confident we are making a good decision.”
King also apparently struggled to gain certification with Utah’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Committee (POST) before joining Provo’s department.
“John has not endeared himself to POST,” Bushman wrote to the mayor, indicating that POST officials were not happy with how King was treating the agency’s in-house investigator. “He says John was sarcastic and couldn’t believe what they required of him — as if he should have special treatment.”
On Nov. 20, Curtis emailed King to tell him he was ready to introduce him as Provo’s next police chief.
“I’m not concerned about the POST issue,” Curtis said, “and am anxious to get rolling.”