Utah’s police academy plans to make cops more aware of bias in law enforcement

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters walk through a police line on State Street in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020.

The director of Utah’s police academy on Wednesday unveiled plans to increase the amount of anti-bias training and hand-to-hand combat instruction cadets receive.

Maj. Scott Stephenson told the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council the plan includes 12 to 14 hours of new courses covering legitimacy in policing, bias-free policing, trauma-informed policing and serving communities of color. Stephenson said he’s also in discussions with the University of Utah to create a capstone course expounding on those topics.

The cadets will also received 16 to 18 additional hours teaching them to fight with their hands. Stephenson has expressed concern that the state’s 8,000 peace officers haven’t received enough training on serving communities that have historically had conflicts with police and that officers may use weapons to subdue suspects because they don’t feel comfortable in a fist fight.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maj. Scott Stephenson, Peace Officers Standards and Training director onJune 6, 2018.

Stephenson on Wednesday said he wants cadets to have “muscle memory” kick in when a suspect resists.

Also Wednesday, the council suspended or revoked the police certification of eight people. One of them was Elan Matotek, who was employed by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. She admitted to being intoxicated when she had an argument and pushed her girlfriend. No criminal charges were filed.

Matotek appeared before the council and blamed the episode on alcohol. She said she has quit drinking and is attending counseling.

“My career and everything,” Matotek told the council members. “I do want to keep it and try to move forward at some point.”

The council issued Matotek a two-year suspension.

The council weighed whether to give short suspensions to two veteran police officers who, in separate episodes, used police databases without authorization. One officer looked up a license plate for a friend who thought she had been defrauded by a contractor. The second officer looked up the driver history of his ex-wife’s boyfriend because the man was driving the former couple’s children.

In both cases, the council opted to give the officers only a letter of caution.

Others who were suspended or lost their police powers Wednesday:

• Brigham Young University Police: Troy Leary, three-year suspension for sex on duty.

• Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office: Ricardo Aguilar, two-year suspension for domestic violence; Michael Cortes, one-year suspension for lewdness.

• Tooele County Sheriff’s Office: Taggert Foias, one-year suspension for driving under the influence.

• Unified Police Department: Taylor Scruggs, two-year suspension for threats of violence and disorderly conduct.

• Utah Highway Patrol: Devin Park, certification revoked for sexual battery, lying and disorderly conduct.

• Unemployed but still holding a police certification: Rodney Purvis, two-year suspension for driving impaired.