A review of police misconduct allegations in American Fork by the Utah Attorney General's Office has cleared the department of felony wrongdoing.
Attorney General Steven H. Morrissett said in a letter to Mayor Ted Barratt that allegations against city leaders and police officers did not constitute crimes that would be pursued by the state's top legal agency."Although some of the complaints make reference to claimed criminal violations, the conduct complained of appears more appropriate for administrative or civil action against appropriate persons," Morrissett said.
"At worst, there may be misdemeanor violations of law alleged."
He urged Barratt to ask a city attorney to prosecute any founded misdemeanor charge.
Barratt, who has been deflecting criticism in council meetings for not calling for a probe of the department, received Morrissett's letter on Tuesday.
"It was a good letter," Barratt said. "It was one of the items I needed before I could do anything."
City Attorney Carl T. Wanlass said Thursday he questions the need for a probe of the police department because the majority of allegations against officers have not been substantiated.
Barratt said he pushed for the letter, which the attorney general's office balked at issuing for more than 60 days, to make sure all agencies who had been contacted about the police controversy had taken a legal stance.
In addition, attorneys representing the city in a federal lawsuit filed by police officers who allege their rights of free speech and due process were violated by the city administration asked Barratt to hold off on acting on requests by residents to investigate the police staff.
Now that mediation talks have broken down, he said, the matter could be pursued.
"Now I can do what needs to be done," he said. "There were suggestions well worth looking at."
Barratt said he hopes to have questions about the police department settled by the end of the year. Some misconduct charges are still under review by a city committee.
"Whatever is done, however it is taken care of, the public will have the assurance" a thorough review had been completed, he said. Perhaps then, he said, a vocal minority will be satisfied.
Morrissett said residents have expressed a good deal of frustration with "the responsiveness of city government officials to public concerns and criticize the professionalism of the city police."
He suggested an appointment of an ombudsman to soothe strained relations between residents and employees who deal with the public, including police officers.
Such a person could work for the City Council, but would have the responsibility to listen to citizen complaints with an unbiased ear and assist citizens in obtaining information, he offered.
"I believe the appropriate manner in which American Fork should handle these complaints will require a combined response by the City Council and city administrators to provide an open forum for the complaints," he said.
A few vocal residents believe the procedures and administration of the police department need to be scrutinized by an independent investigator.
Among the charges against the department include allegations that officers launched an "in-house" child-abuse probe of a former officer's spouse, brandished weapons while detaining teenagers, issued death threats against citizens and misplaced or withheld records. Morrissett reviewed similar complaints.
In many ways, the attorney general's opinion echoes Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson, who weighed in on the controversy four months ago. Bryson said although claims he looked at would not rise to a felony level he could prosecute, a performance audit of police procedure would "be money well spent."