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Lawsuit over sexual harassment at SLC PD likely to go forward, even after chief’s resignation

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Posted at 3:32 PM, Jun 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-12 23:54:41-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A lawyer for three officers who claim sexual harassment involving a former deputy police chief is likely to proceed forward, even after Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank resigned over his handling of it.

"We are proceeding toward a lawsuit," Ed Brass, the attorney for the officers, said in an interview Friday with FOX 13.

Brass said his clients, Robin Heiden, Melody Gray, and Tiffany Commagere, take no pleasure in Burbank's sudden resignation Thursday night.

"They’re not happy about anyone losing their job. It’s not something they requested. He was certainly not a target of theirs. They don’t want to create that impression at all," Brass said. "The chief did his job very well for a number of years. With respect to this particular issue? We part ways."

Burbank said he was given an ultimatum on Thursday afternoon by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker over his handling of the sexual harassment allegations against his former deputy chief, Rick Findlay. Burbank claims the mayor would either force him to read a prepared statement admitting to mishandling the situation or be terminated.

Burbank resigned.

READ THE STATEMENT HERE

Former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, the day after resigning from office.

Former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, the day after resigning from office.

Speaking to FOX 13 on Friday, the former police chief said he defends how he handled the accusations involving his deputy chief. Where Becker's office wanted Findlay demoted -- Burbank put him on administrative leave in November 2013. Findlay ultimately retired from his job in June 2014.

FOX 13 first reported on Findlay being put on leave in March 2014.

"Did he not lose his job? I called him in on the day I received the letter (alleging sexual harassment) and said you are no longer deputy chief, you are on administrative leave and will not be a leader in this organization and, in fact, he never was again," Burbank said.

Asked why he didn't fire Findlay, Burbank responded: "Because it didn't rise to that level."

According to a notice of claim filed with the city, Findlay is accused of taking photographs from two of the officers' phones and sharing them with others. Another officer claims that Findlay claimed to co-workers he had personal photographs of her.

Burbank acknowledges he handled it in his own way -- a situation that Becker calls "insubordination." But the former chief says the mayor took no action for months, until his election opponents started making the sexual harassment case an issue.

"If it’s such a burning concern, if it’s so traumatic it’s going to cost me my position, I think someone would have called me in the last year and a half," Burbank said. "But I received nothing."

Mayor Ralph Becker insisted to FOX 13 on Friday that he had repeatedly spoken to the chief about the situation and given him time to make changes within the Salt Lake City Police Department.

"Really, I wanted to give him the benefit of that doubt. Until it came to conclusion, which it did yesterday," the mayor said.

Becker defended his decision to deal with the police chief, denying it had anything to do with election-year politics and saying sexual harassment will not be tolerated within the city.

"Sexual harassment is unacceptable and when there are substantiated claims of sexual harassment, actions have to be taken," the mayor said.

Asked if he would direct the city to settle any sexual harassment lawsuit brought by the three officers, Mayor Becker said he would wait and see what the legal process brings. When the notice of claim was first filed by the officers, Salt Lake City had 60 days to respond. Brass said they failed to do so.

Asked what his future plans would be, Burbank said he already had several job offers, but he had no desire to work in law enforcement. He said he would like to work on law enforcement-related issues.