Sandy • Kevin Pepper was warned twice not to look up friends, family or co-workers in any law enforcement database unless he had a legitimate reason.
But Pepper wanted to look up his own truck to see when the registration needed to be renewed. He wondered if his son-in-law’s unpaid traffic tickets had led to warrants being issued. And he wanted to know his supervisors’ dates of birth so he could mark their birthdays on his calendar. Pepper said he couldn’t remember why he looked up his ex-wife.
And for that, Pepper had his police certification suspended for six months.
He was apologetic.
“Over 30 years in law enforcement, and I should have known better,” Pepper told a meeting of the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
The council held its quarterly meeting Wednesday. There were the usual cases of peace officers driving drunk or getting into family fights. Another, more 21st-century problem is officers who misuse law enforcement databases. Cops aren’t supposed to be looking up license plates, addresses or criminal histories unless it’s for a law enforcement purpose.
The council’s guidelines call for a six-month suspension for misusing databases, but the members can increase or reduce the punishment based on circumstances. In one case Wednesday, the council issued only a letter of caution for a Unified Police Department officer who told a confidential informant information he thought was available on public websites.
When Pepper’s case was called, Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel wanted to give him a letter of caution, too, saying that would be fair. Pepper had already been demoted from his job as a supervisor at the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
“He is a top-of-the-line investigator,” Noel said. “He has suffered his punishment though his office.”
But Pepper accessed the databases without authorization 12 times, according to investigators. The other council members voted down Noel’s motion and opted to give Pepper a six-month suspension of his police powers.
That amounts to a sentence of time served. The Attorney General’s Office removed Pepper from his law enforcement position in August. He has been working at the office in a civilian post.
Shawn Dale Scow was removed from his position as a Utah Transit Authority police officer and moved into a civil role, too, after he was found to have misused a database. Scow looked up a license plate for a felon he said he has known for 25 years. There was no nefarious intent, Scow told the council Wednesday.
UTA reassigned him to such tasks as taking inventory of the equipment room.
“I’ve been humiliated beyond words,” Scow told the council.
The council opted to give Scow a four-month suspension. It, too, will amount to a sentence of time served.
Misuse of law enforcement databases has emerged as a problem for Utah police in recent years. One of the best-known cases is still pending. The Utah Attorney General’s Office is reviewing an investigation of police at Brigham Young University looking up students.
Misusing such databases can be a misdemeanor in Utah, though such prosecutions are rare. Col. Mike Rapich, the commander of the Utah Highway Patrol, said the database cases are difficult because some episodes are innocent mistakes while others have malicious intent.
“This body is left to determine where does this land in a huge spectrum in potential culpability,” Rapich said.
Also disciplined Wednesday:
• Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office, Joshua Brock, revocation of his law enforcement certification for assault, threatening with a weapon and domestic violence.
• Daggett County Sheriff, Logan Walker, three-month suspension for official misconduct.
• Moab police, Joshua Althoff, six-month suspension for criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
• Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Douglas Ashman, one-year suspension for illegal drug use.
• Wasatch County Constables, Jerred Loftus, one-year suspension for criminal mischief during a fight with his girlfriend.
• Utah Department of Corrections, Johnathon McCaul, 2½-year suspension for assault and disruption of a communications device; Lonny Powell, one-year suspension for lewdness.
• West Valley City, David Montoya, 1½-year suspension for driving under the influence.
• Juab County Sheriff, Cal C. Nielson, 3½-year suspension for false information on an application to obtain certification.