Mortensens file lawsuit against police, prosecutors
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Saying police and prosecutors purposely deceived a grand jury by not presenting all of the information available, the son and daughter-in-law of a slain Brigham Young University professor filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday.
"This was a terrible violation of Pam and Roger Mortensen's constitutional rights," said attorney Robert Sykes. "This was a travesty of justice."
On Nov. 16, 2009, Kay Mortensen was murdered in his home in Payson Canyon. For four months, Pam and Roger Mortensen, who happened to stop by Kay Mortensen's home shortly after the murder was believed to have occurred, were incarcerated on murder charges. They were just a month away from trial when a tip lead investigators to make two new arrests and drop the charges against the Mortensens.
The two men new men arrested and charged in Mortensen's death allegedly held Pam and Roger Mortensen hostage and threatened to kill them.
Although they are no longer accused of the horrific crime, the Mortensens spoke at length on Monday on how the false arrest has affected their lives.
"Every aspect of my life has been changed," Roger Mortensen said.
Mortensen talked about how people used to cross the street if they saw him coming just to avoid contact or how he was asked once to leave a grocery store while shopping.
Pamela Mortensen lost her job and said she is having trouble finding a new one. The incident has hurt the Mortensens financially, their standings in the community and relations with their own families, which neither are sure can ever be repaired.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges violation of their Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure and 14th Amendment rights to due process, as well as protections under the Utah Constitution. They are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The complaint asserts malicious prosecution, false arrest and false imprisonment happened as the result of the actions of Utah County Sheriff's detectives Josh Chappell and Erik Knutzen, Sgt. Matt Higley and Lt. Mike Brower. It also names Tim Taylor and John Nielsen, prosecutors with the Utah County Attorney's Office.
When the officers named in the suit were interviewed by a grand jury investigating the Kay Mortensen murder, they deliberately withheld information, coloring the panel's perception of the couple's participation in the crime, according to court documents.
Mistakenly pointing fingers at the wrong suspect is not a crime, Sykes said.
"They can suspect all they want. That's good police work," he said.
What they can't do, however, is purposely withhold exculpatory evidence when being questioned by a grand jury, Sykes said.
"The duty of officers before a grand jury is to tell the truth. They cannot misrepresent something. They cannot misrepresent by falsehoods or omissions," he said. "Many false impressions were left."
As an example, they point to the statements by investigators that the pair gave only "vague" descriptions of the two men, when in fact, they described the color of their hair, body weight, height and build — in addition to how they spoke.
Police and prosecutors also represented to the grand jury that the two were "very calm and (showed) no emotion whatsoever" within minutes of their 911 call. The statements failed to note, however, that Roger Mortensen suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident that continues to affect his demeanor and that Pam Mortensen was so scared and upset she couldn't control her bowels that night, according to the lawsuit.
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