Sandy pays $100K after ex-police chief claims the mayor defamed him when he fired him for inappropriate touching

FILE - In this June 20, 2017, file photo, Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker speaks to reporters during a news conference in Sandy, Utah. A new internal report released Thursday, April 26, 2018, reveals that Thacker, the fired police chief of one of Salt Lake City’s largest suburbs, had been accused of giving female employees lingering hugs that included pressing against their chest and some inappropriate touching. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File )

A Sandy police chief who was fired last year amid allegations of inappropriate touching received $100,000 from the city after he threatened to sue, newly released documents detail.

Kevin Thacker was ousted as the city’s top cop last April, after city officials determined he had hugged female employees too often and too long.

At a news conference, Mayor Kurt Bradburn said the alleged behavior had spanned a number of years, and that Thacker had been “cautioned” but had not changed his behavior.

Months later, Thacker notified the city that he intended to sue, calling Bradburn’s announcements to the news media nothing more than “melodramatic presentations” intended to cast the mayor as someone fighting against sexual misconduct and for “wives” and “daughters,” according to a notice of claim released Wednesday in response to a records request from The Salt Lake Tribune.

In the notice, Thacker said he had never been warned about complaints of inappropriate touching and that he was put on leave “out of the blue” in April 2018.

Thacker claimed an attorney hired by the city to conduct an investigation told him the probe “did not come from a complaint by any individual claiming inappropriate touching.”

Thacker told investigators that he was “a hugger,” according to the notice, but denied doing anything inappropriate.

Bradburn fired Thacker weeks later.

"Ironically, at the end of the meeting Mayor Bradburn attempted to hug Mr. Thacker," the notice of claim reads, "to which Mr. Thacker pushed back saying, 'Mayor, I can't give you a hug' — as he had just been fired for hugging."

After the firing, Bradburn held two news conferences detailing the investigation. Thacker claimed in his notice that Bradburn spread a “false narrative” suggesting a long history of sexual misconduct, and at one point the mayor warned the public “that Mr. Thacker should be kept away from wives and daughters.”

(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.

In his notice of claim, Thacker told city officials he wanted a “name-clearing hearing” and would be pursuing a claim that Bradburn defamed him and made malicious public statements.

A settlement agreement released Wednesday reveals that the city agreed to resolve Thacker’s claim outside of court. City officials agreed to pay Thacker $100,006.40 — with $25,000 slated to go to the lawyer who represented him. The city also agreed to give Thacker his chief of police badge back and will provide him with retirement credentials, such as a “retirement badge” and other related documents.

The October 2018 settlement agreement also included a stipulation that the parties keep the details secret unless required by law to disclose them. Utah’s records laws says final settlement agreements are generally considered public.

The agreement also emphasized that the city paying Thacker was not an admission of fault or wrongdoing.

Deputy Mayor Evelyn Everton said in a statement Wednesday that the city settled to protect those involved and allow the police department to move forward. She also noted the settlement mitigated the cost to taxpayers compared to if the case had played out in court.

“Given the findings of the independent investigation, Mayor Bradburn believed it was in the best interest of the department and the city to terminate Mr. Thacker’s employment,” she said. “The mayor rejects any allegations that Mr. Thacker’s termination was based on anything other than the findings of the report. The mayor still believes this was the right decision.”

Thacker had been with the Sandy Police Department for 35 years, and had been the chief since 2014.

In a report released last April, officials wrote that no employee formally complained about Thacker’s touching, 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.

The report was heavily redacted — as was Thacker’s notice of claim — which makes it impossible to determine a timeline, how many women were interviewed or the 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.

Thacker told investigators that he does hug, and that he hugs men as much as women while trying to cultivate a “family” environment. 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.