Police chief’s hugging, rubbing and grazing led to his firing, according to Sandy’s heavily redacted report

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune "We're very happy with the protocol we have," said Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker, Tuesday, June 20, 2017, during a press conference regarding the June 6 shooting of Memorez Rackley, her two sons, and a good Samaritan’s daughter. Since the shooting deaths, questions have been raised regarding Sandy City Police Department's policies and procedures in how the case was handled. Chief Thacker told the room full of reporters that the most dangerous, physical violence may not happen while co-habitating. "We can't force someone to leave their home," said Thacker.

An investigation into rumors of former Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker inappropriately touching women determined that he had a penchant for targeting women with large breasts, hugging them too often and for too long.

The city released a report from Salt Lake City-based law firm Ray Quinney & Nebeker on Thursday night.

Police Chief Kevin Thacker was fired Tuesday after an investigation into reports of “inappropriate touching.” Mayor Kurt Bradburn has repeatedly refused to say when reports of the sexual harassment started, how many reports were received or how many alleged victims there were.

No employee formally complained about Thacker’s touching, according to the report, and the witnesses who were interviewed were “very reluctant,” some breaking into tears during the interviews.

The report found no evidence of sexual assault or “overtly” sexual contact between Thacker and employees. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Wednesday that he was not aware of law enforcement investigating Thacker.

The report released by the city is heavily redacted, making it impossible to determine a timeline for the touching, how many women were interviewed or context for many of the situations described.

Thacker often hugged women, the report found, but he rarely hugged men. It said the chief often gave “frontal” hugs and pressed his chest against women’s. While hugging, he would rub their backs, running his hand over their bra straps.

When giving side hugs, women told investigators, Thacker would rub his hand along the sides of the women’s bodies, sometimes touching their breasts.

It felt as if he was trying to “cop a feel,” one woman said.

Women also said Thacker sometimes touched their thighs. One said Thacker leered down her low-cut top, and another told investigators that he said things that made her uncomfortable.

She disclosed that Thacker said “nice sweater” in a way that made her think he was commenting on her figure. He then said, “You look cold,” which she took to be a comment on the appearance of her breasts through her sweater.

Thacker told investigators that he does hug, and that he hugs men as much as women while trying to cultivate a “family” environment. He has been with the department for 35 years, the last four as chief. He denied much of the sexual connotation reported by the women, including touching their breasts or putting his cheek against theirs while hugging.

Thacker described his hugs as “very innocent,” according to the report, and said that though he has briefly touched women on the leg, it was not sexual.

The report does not say how the investigation was opened or when the city first was told about the conduct. It does say that Thacker was warned about the hugging and that he said he would stop but didn’t.

Hours before the report was released, Councilwoman Kristin Coleman-Nicholl said there are still questions surrounding Thacker’s departure.

She confirmed Thursday that Bradburn directed Sandy police employees to not share any information on the matter. She said she did not know how that directive was relayed to employees or whether Bradburn discussed repercussions for disobedience.

“I am frustrated with the lack of information that the council has received,” she said.

Coleman-Nicholl said the council has essentially been updated on the situation at the same rate as the public has. It was given the report at the same time it was sent out to the media.

The council was told of Thacker’s firing Tuesday morning, she said, before Bradburn held a news conference.

Bradburn, Coleman-Nicholl said, refused to give council members any more than the few details he was planning to release to the media hours later.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn announced Tuesday, April 24, 2018 during a news conference that the city has fired Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker after allegations of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct. All allegations involve police department employees.

The complaints spanned several years, Bradburn said, and Thacker had been cautioned but did not change his behavior. In a prepared statement released Thursday night, Bradburn said Thacker’s pattern of behavior forced his hand.

“It is my responsibility as Mayor, to foster a work environment where employees do not feel they must subject themselves to unwelcome physical contact in order to retain their employment,” the statement says.

The lack of information and the gag order appear to be troubling to some. Councilman Steve Fairbanks said he has heard from people questioning the mayor’s decision.

“People have made comments to me that they don’t think things are on the up and up,” Fairbanks said, adding that he doesn’t have inside information as to why Thacker was fired. After reading the report, Fairbanks said most of the questions remain. He already knew Thacker was fired for inappropriate touching.

“I don’t know if I know much more than I did before,” he said.

Coleman-Nicholl has also heard from Sandy residents asking for more information. She doesn’t know what to tell them.

“I’ve been contacted by residents, I’ve been contacted by other reporters asking for information,” she said before the report was released, “and that they feel the information they’ve been given is inadequate. I feel the same way, and I don’t like not giving my residents answers.”

Bradburn was elected mayor in the fall. He was an attorney with the state, most recently in the Utah Department of Human Resource Management. He made noise quickly in his tenure by giving himself a $15,000 raise. Because the raise didn’t put him over the budget, Bradburn was able to make the decision on his own. The move was questioned immediately, Bradburn said he was wrong to have implemented the raise, and he slashed his salary by $43,000.

Despite Bradburn’s short time at the helm, Fairbanks said, it’s fair to question the mayor’s decision-making.

“This is a man who had absolutely no background or experience in municipal government,” Fairbanks said. “I think he’s in a little over his head still. I think he wants to be good; I just think he doesn’t know how.

“I don’t have any animosity toward the man; I am just perplexed by him.”

Thacker declined to talk to The Salt Lake Tribune after the release of the report, but on Wednesday night, Thacker’s family members posted to social media a letter he wrote in response to his termination.

“Looking back, I made a lot of mistakes as I learned and tried to conform to a position I never sought,” Thacker wrote. “As you all know, I’m a ‘hugger,’ I always have been. If I offended any of you, I’m sorry, it was never my intent.“

The report found that male officers saw the hugging and perceived it as inappropriate. They were “embarrassed” by it and “want it to come to an end.”

Thacker on multiple occasions put his hand on one woman’s upper thigh, she said, “tapped it and rubbed it a little awkwardly” before removing his hand. That woman said she wanted the touching to stop but did not want to file a complaint with human resources.

Many women throughout the report said they did not want to file formal complaints, and none did. One, who said Thacker hugged her “hundreds” of times, did not want to participate in the interviews and said she liked Thacker. She also said he had grazed her breast during hugs. The contact wasn’t welcome, she said, but she wasn’t offended by it.

Due to heavy redaction, it is not clear whether the women avoided reporting the conduct because they liked Thacker and didn’t think the touching was wrong, whether they feared retribution or whether other reasons affected their decisions.

— Tribune reporter Mariah Noble contributed to this report.