A Uintah County man once accused of sexual abuse has filed a lawsuit seeking more than $7.5 million from the Roosevelt Police Department and the detectives who investigated him, arguing that his civil rights were violated.
Jerahmia Hardman alleges in his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court, that now-retired Detective Pete Butcher and another Roosevelt officer coerced a false written confession from him during an interrogation and destroyed video proof of their actions.
Hardman, 30, was charged in 2015 with sexually abusing a young girl, but a judge tossed out the case two years later because of the missing video recordings.
This isn’t the first time Butcher’s policing tactics led to dismissed charges and a civil lawsuit. In 2016, Roosevelt paid $500,000 under a city insurance policy to a former nurse who alleged that Butcher used their mutual faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to get him to falsely confess to sexually abusing a patient.
Hardman’s attorney, Aaron Owens, wrote in the new lawsuit that his client was interviewed by Butcher and Detective Tracy Bird at the Roosevelt Police Department in 2015 about an allegation of sexual abuse.
“The entire interrogation was riddled with lies and falsehoods about the allegations and the evidence that had already been collected,” Owens wrote. “The lies and manipulation were intended to get Mr. Hardman to admit guilt.”
And Hardman eventually penned a letter purportedly admitting to the abuse, but the recording of that part of the interrogation is missing — and the two detectives have not been able to explain why.
Hardman’s attorney asserts the missing video would have shown the officer telling his client what to write and spelling out the words.
Hardman’s mother had testified at a previous hearing in the criminal case that her son cannot read or write beyond a rudimentary level, and that while the written statement was in his handwriting, he would not have been able to write the words on the page without instruction.
Eighth District Judge Edwin Peterson dismissed the criminal charges against Hardman last September, finding it was “extraordinarily troubling” that the detectives knew about the missing portion of the recording and did not inform prosecutors or others involved until Hardman’s lawyer challenged it in court.
“The circumstances surrounding the production of the written confession and the fact that the entire interrogation was recorded except the portion when the written confession was purportedly made creates serious doubt as to the authenticity and reliability of the purported confession document,” the judge wrote in dismissing the case.
The officers testified that the recording equipment can sometimes “glitch” and skip small parts of the recording. But they never had any other explanation for why a large portion of the video evidence was missing. Uintah County prosecutors had argued in court that the missing recording was “an innocent mistake” and said the case should move forward.
Hardman argues in the lawsuit that the officers’ actions amounted to a violation of his civil rights to due process. He is seeking $5 million for lost income and damages to his reputation.
And noting that this isn’t the first time Butcher has been accused of violating a suspect’s civil rights, Hardman also asked for $2.5 million in punitive damages against Roosevelt for “continued constitutional violations.”
Heather White, an attorney hired by Roosevelt for the lawsuit, said Wednesday that the city has not reviewed the allegations in the court filing. But she contended the video of Hardman’s alleged confession does exist.
“We have the video and always have,” she wrote in an email. “The end of the recording is garbled and then cuts out. Earlier downloads of the recording ended before the confession, which is presumably what the trial judge had when he issued his ruling in the criminal case. However, we were able to restore several minutes of the recording, in which Mr. Hardman confesses to touching [the alleged victim].”
Police officials announced several weeks ago in a social media post that Butcher retired from the force after more than a decade with the department. He previously had worked for about 10 years with the Daggett County Sheriff’s Office.
Butcher was accused of similar coercive tactics in another case involving Joshua Shumway, a nurse who had been accused of sexually abusing a patient in 2013.
In that case, Butcher told Shumway the case against him was “a slam dunk,” according to a lawsuit, and referred to nonexistent DNA and semen evidence linking the nurse to the crime.
The nurse never admitted to the crimes, according to court papers, but told Butcher he “must have done it” and wrote a letter of apology to the victim at the detective’s request.
Peterson, the judge, ruled that Shumway’s alleged admissions would not be allowed at a trial, citing coercive and manipulative investigation techniques. The decision caused prosecutors to ask that the case be dismissed.