Victim services director says Cache County attorney candidate threatened her for supporting his 2024 election opponent

Terryl Warner told the County Council that Cameron Cox — who is also a contract public defender in the county — sent her threatening messages. Cox denies the texts were threat.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Old Cache County Courthouse in Logan on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Logan • Terryl Warner, the director of Cache County’s Victim Services Division, said she was threatened by a man running for Cache County attorney after she began supporting another candidate. She also contended her concerns were not taken seriously by the county’s top leader.

At Tuesday night’s Cache County Council meeting, the longtime county employee read text messages sent to her last month by Cameron Cox, a public defender who is also running for county attorney.

He’s running against Taylor Sorensen, the interim county attorney. Cox is a contracted public defender in Cache County, whose role is to defend people who can’t afford a lawyer and who are facing criminal charges. Victim services advocate for those who have been harmed and ensure they are cared for and included as a case goes through the court system.

Cox doesn’t dispute sending the text messages, but he told The Salt Lake Tribune they were not intended to be threatening.

In the texts, he alleges the victim services budget has been mismanaged, something he won’t ignore if elected as the county’s top prosecutor. Warner addressed those allegations publicly to the council, saying Cox had inaccurately portrayed expenditures by her office.

“I am deeply concerned about the threats, the intimidation, the hostility that exists in Cache County,” Warner told the council Tuesday night.

“I want to know if you’re willing to change this current culture of bullying threats, intimidation and retaliation toward Cache County employees, or if you’ll remain silent,” she added.

Warner also publicly rebuked County Executive David Zook in front of the council for, she said, not addressing the threats made by a county contractor. Zook questioned, however, whether the county had authority to conduct a personnel investigation — because Cox is a contracted public defender, not a county employee.

Warner told The Tribune she also reported the threatening messages to the state’s top elections official, the lieutenant governor’s office, because the threats related to this fall’s county attorney race. Warner said she’d been contacted by Davis County investigators in relation to the threats.

The text messages

The first text Warner shared with the County Council on Tuesday was a message she received on Feb. 9. In the text, Cox wrote he was displeased with Warner supporting Sorensen.

“I’ve learned you are campaigning for Taylor and saying things about me that are not true,” the message read. “Best of luck. I’m an honest and good person. If I don’t win this election, I will [win] the next one and make the next four years a self-reflecting experience.”

After receiving the text, Warner said she reported it to Zook, who, according to Warner, said the text was unacceptable, but nothing needed to be done.

Warner said she received another message from Cox on Feb. 14. In the text, which Warner also shared in council chambers Tuesday night, Cox accused her of mishandling county funds and not sending victim advocates to Logan’s municipal court, a critical component of her job.

“I see you are forwarding my text around,” Cox said in the text, while also alleging that Warner had been mismanaging the victim services budget and not fulfilling grant requirements. “Best of luck Terryl. [I’m] sure Taylor will keep that all and more under wraps as your puppet, but I will not.”

Warner said she supports Sorenson, but added she hasn’t outright endorsed him. She told The Tribune she has shared some of his campaign signs with people and attended a town hall. “That’s about it,” she added. “I really haven’t done much, but yes, people know I am supporting Taylor.”

Cox told The Tribune he sent the texts to Warner as a way to defend himself from “slanderous statements” made by her.

“I never threatened anyone in my campaign, including Terryl Warner,” Cox told The Tribune. He also said that his “self-reflection” text was not meant as a threat, but he was trying to express the reality of what a new county attorney would be for her office.

Warner denies saying anything slanderous about Cox, adding, “I have only been positive about him.”

“I never said anything negative and it would be nice if he could tell all of us who told him I did,” Warner told The Tribune.

A complaint to the lieutenant governor’s office

In a letter Warner sent to human resources dated Feb. 23, which was shared with The Tribune, she wrote, “I also made the difficult decision to report this text to the Lt. Governor’s Office/Elections Department.”

Warner said she contacted the lieutenant governor’s office because state law says it’s unlawful to, “interfere with the free exercise of the elective franchise of any voter…”

A spokesperson for the Utah lieutenant governor’s office confirmed the office received a complaint from Warner, but declined to comment further.

Warner told The Tribune her complaint was then fielded by the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, adding members of the office have since interviewed her. Stephanie Dinsmore, the public information officer for the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, said that while the county doesn’t have standing agreements to handle cases involving conflicts, “it is not uncommon for us to ask or be asked by other agencies to handle cases with potential conflict.”

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on any open or active investigations our agency or any other agency is handling,” Dinsmore added.

Who has the authority to investigate a public defender?

Worried for her safety, Warner said she reported the texts to Zook — and alleges those concerns were brushed aside. She also reported to the Cache County’s human resources department.

The department head, Amy Adams, said during Tuesday’s council meeting that she sent Zook a contract for an outside department to begin an investigation, but that contract has not been signed.

Warner’s allegations Tuesday were met with support by members of the County Council.

Chair David Erickson agreed with Warner’s call to change the county’s culture of “bullying, threats, intimidation and retaliation toward Cache County employees …”

“This county means too much to me to keep going through this kind of malarkey,” Erickson said during the Tuesday meeting. “We should not in any way bring this county to that level … There’s too many good people here.”

Zook said Tuesday night that the threats are being investigated by county human resources and public defenders’ office. However, he doesn’t believe it should be the county who investigates the matter, and said, “My interpretation of the law is that the managing public defender is the one — the only one — who has authority to investigate a public defender.”

He also shared a letter with The Tribune from Matthew Barraza, executive director of the Utah Indigent Defense Commission, which echoes Zook’s concern that a county should not be the entity investigating a public defender.

“We believe that any disciplinary action of a public defender should be addressed through that person’s Managing Defender, rather than through a County Attorney’s office,” Barraza wrote in the letter.

In another letter Zook shared with The Tribune, Mike McGinnis, the manager of Cache County’s public defenders, wrote to the County Council on March 7 and cited a line of county code that states, “the Managing Defender shall have independent authority in administering and overseeing public defender contracts.”

When reached Wednesday, McGinnis declined to comment further on the situation.

“We understand that this situation is outside the scope of Mr. Cox’s position as a public defender and is actually related to the political contest between Mr. Cox and Taylor Sorensen,” McGinnis wrote to council members. “Therefore, the matter should still be dealt with within the bounds of the county code.”