The Utah County attorney has advised American Fork's mayor to hire an independent investigator to probe allegations of police misconduct.
"I believe that all parties would welcome such an examination and report," said C. Kay Bryson, who also asserted in an April 7 letter that such an investigation could stop a growing "polarization" in the community."While it is not my intent to stick my nose into the business of American Fork city, it seems to me that resolving the problem rests squarely on your shoulders, and any reasonable amount of money that might necessarily be spent in such an investigation would be money well spent," Bryson wrote.
The county attorney said he has received several complaints regarding stressed relations between police officers and a former mayor and councilman and a handful of residents. Most claims were unfounded, he said, but some could constitute misdemeanor crimes that the city attorney could prosecute.
A few complaints also required more investigation and evaluation by an independent source free of conflict, perceived or otherwise, he said.
Mayor Ted Barratt is out of town this week. But he said at last week's council meeting that he wasn't ready to make a decision about the city's next step regarding another investigation.
Kevin Bennett, one of the city's attorneys, said he had not been shown Bryson's letter and did not know if the city was thinking about finding an independent counsel for a possible probe.
While at the city's top post last year, former mayor Jess Green said residents had told him that police officers had harassed a former officer's spouse by launching an "in-house" child-abuse investigation, sold a confiscated vehicle back to the owner at a reduced price to avoid a court process and made death threats against citizens.
Bryson and James "Tucker" Hansen, the city prosecutor, decided their close working relationships with city law-enforcement officials would bias an investigation into Green's claims. The Utah Attorney General's Office was then contacted for assistance.
In the two-page letter, Bryson also said the county attorney does not have the authority to direct the various police departments serving Utah County cities to scrutinize officers' conduct.
"Most of what I have heard . . . relates to policy problems or behavior problems, which in turn result in public relations problems about which I can do nothing," Bryson wrote. "I have received no information, which if substantiated would rise to the level of a felony crime over which I would have jurisdiction."
Meanwhile, a full-length report on an investigation of the department called by the City Council has yet to surface. Some public officials, including Barratt, have said the alleged investigation - conducted by Salt Lake attorney Kevin Watkins - cleared the department.
But only a letter from Watkins, who then was employed at the Strong & Hanni firm, has been made public. The letter, which does not specifically address findings of an investigation, was released to resident Bill Jacob through the Government Records Access and Management Act.
Watkins has since left the Strong & Hanni law firm, which was placed on retainer by the city. Several versions of the letter with different dates also have been circulated, adding to Jacob's confusion and suspicion about what city officials know regarding Watkins' findings.
Barratt testified at a state-record panel hearing that he knows of no other documents, electronic or in written form, about the investigation. Bennett said he does not know of any other that exists.
Public spats about the police department have dominated discussion in the city of 25,000 for more than a year. A decision by Green to terminate Chief John Durrant last summer was overturned by the City Council and was the impetus for a U.S. District Court lawsuit filed by 24 department employees.
The suit claims city officials created a hostile workplace where employees feared for their jobs and that a "gag order" by Green restricting what department employees could say about a settlement with former officer Phil Terry was unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment right to free speech and 14th Amendment right to due process.
Judge David Sam refused to dismiss the officers' U.S. District Court suit in February, allowing the case to move toward trial. An attorney for the officers was optimistic about a possible upcoming settlement.