The Utah attorney general's office says it is investigating allegations of witness tampering against the Morgan County sheriff.
"There are no formal charges pending," said deputy attorney general David Thomas. "But there is enough material that's worth our looking into it."The allegations, which are at least partly responsible for the state's preliminary investigation, originated from the Vernal police department, according to Police Chief Robert Downard. The Uintah County attorney investigated the complaint initially and later turned the matter over to the state.
Several people involved in the investigation say the complaint alleges that Sheriff Burt Holbrook contacted Downard and encouraged him to pressure Vernal police officer Keith Squires to speak highly of Hol-brook should he would be subpoenaed in a pending civil suit naming the sheriff. Squires was a Morgan County deputy sheriff under Holbrook before he left for Vernal six months ago.
Thomas said recent evidence caused his office to launch the investigation, but he would not comment on all that is involved. "(Witness tampering) is included in it, but that doesn't mean that's the investigation," he said.
Holbrook's attorney, Fred Wasilewski of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, said the issue is much less serious than it appears.
"There's some conversation that he (Hol-brook) must have had with somebody in Vernal and someone came out saying it was criminal witness tampering," Wasilewski said. "We're not sure what the heck it's about."
Wasilewski said he is confident that no charges will be filed. "Whenever a police officer is investigated, it looks bigger than it is . . . because they're in the public eye," he said.
The attorney general's investigation apparently concerns a U.S. District Court lawsuit filed last June by Richard G. Hock of Salt Lake County. Holbrook is named in the suit. The suit claims that Morgan County deputy Steven Karl Seim used excessive force and wrongfully arrested him during an August 1986 altercation at East Canyon State Park.
Besides Seim and Holbrook, the suit also names Morgan County, the Morgan County commissioners, former Morgan County
Sheriff Max Robinson and up to 10 unidentified John and Jane Does.
Seim, described in the lawsuit as "an officer with a quick temper . . . prone to use excessive force in violation of citizens' rights," cited Hock Aug. 13, 1986, for allowing persons under age 16 to operate a jet ski and for not wearing a flotation device while on board a recreational water vehicle.
After an argument, the officer then cited Hock for failure to obey a police officer, interference with an officer making an arrest, parking in a no parking zone, assaulting a peace officer on duty and disorderly conduct. All but one charge was later dropped and a jury found him not guilty of that charge in March 1987.
In a previous lawsuit regarding the incident, the state settled out of court with Hock and awarded him $13,000, according to his attorney, Lonnie Deland. Seim was sued as a state agent because he was acting as a part-time employee for East Canyon State Park when the incident occurred.
"They created the monster (Seim) because of their poor supervision and training," Deland said of the defendants. "When they have a bad apple, they're supposed to get rid of him."
Deland said when the suit goes to court he plans to subpoena "every present deputy or past employee of the sheriff's office that has worked even one day since Seim has worked there," to testify about Seim's character.
Downard had little to say about the Holbrook investigation but did say that the witness tampering investigation against the sheriff relates to Squires, who worked for Morgan County when the East Canyon incident took place.
"After the (attorney general's) investigation, we'll make a statement," he said. "Anything we've done, we'll stand behind."
Meanwhile, Holbrook suspended Morgan County deputy Dan Schofield Feb. 15. Wasilewski said the suspension is related to the investigation because Schofield feels the sheriff suspended him in retaliation for his supposed ties with the investigation. Holbrook denies any retaliation.
Schofield's attorney, Loren Weiss, would not say whether he believes the suspension was retaliatory, or in any way related to the witness tampering investigation. "It's difficult to address motive when you don't even know what he's (Holbrook) doing," Weiss said.