Utah’s police regulators discipline 3 officers, discuss what constitutes ‘lying’

Sandy • Utah’s police regulators suspended three officers for misconduct Tuesday and discussed whether to follow state auditors’ recommendations about when an officer is considered to have lied.

Nathan Jacobsen resigned from the Willard Police Department in February 2018, but the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council still had to decide what to do with his police certification.

Jacobsen was found to have used a department laptop computer to create a temporary phone number and send harassing text messages to his estranged wife and her friends. He pleaded guilty in a criminal court to two misdemeanor counts of telephone harassment.

“I was going through a rough time, and I was drinking a lot,” Jacobsen told the POST Council. He apologized and said he has undergone counseling and quit drinking.

The council voted to suspend Jacobsen for 2½ years, meaning he would have to wait that long before he could apply to work at another police force.

In a separate presentation Tuesday, POST Director Scott Stephenson presented stats showing almost no officers return to policing after a two-year suspension.

The council also issued 2½-year suspensions to two officers who weren’t employed at the time they committed offenses. Kristopher Pease was working at a store and inputting merchandise at below its marked price. He was convicted of misdemeanor retail theft. Shane Visser was convicted of charges related to drunken driving and intoxication.

The state auditor recently examined how POST disciplines officers. Stephenson agreed with the audit on some points. But he explained to council members that he disagreed with how the auditors recommended defining lying.

Auditors suggested defining lying as anytime an under-investigation officer is dishonest with investigators. Stephenson said his policy has been to allow the officer, if he or she chooses to lie at first, to “come clean” at anytime during the interview. Sometimes the accused officer begins with denials and needs a chance to stop and realize he or she needs to tell the truth, Stephenson said.

The audit also found at least a handful of misconduct cases that police departments and sheriff offices had not reported to POST. Stephenson said he’s unaware of any police chief or sheriff hiding misconduct; that those administrators sometimes don’t know what offenses need to be reported to regulators.

“Are there cases not being reported?” Stephenson said. “I think we all agree there are, but it’s hard to prove intent.”