Seven Utah police officers face discipline for misconduct accusations

Posted at 4:11 PM, Jun 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-02 20:08:53-04

SANDY -- The agency that certifies and disciplines all police officers in the state of Utah handed out discipline to seven officers facing misconduct accusations.

The discipline, voted on by the Utah Peace Officer Standards & Training Council at its quarterly meeting on Thursday, ranged from a letter of caution (a warning) to revocation of an officer's badge. Some of the investigations faced pushback from sheriffs who questioned if the punishment really fit the crime.

Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel, representing the Utah Sheriff's Association, said many sheriffs questioned POST's investigations and whether it intruded upon their administrative powers to hand out discipline to an officer. The debate centered around the case of Emery County Sheriff's deputy Michael Vanwagoner, who faced a six month suspension for trespassing on private land while hunting.

"I've taken responsibility," Vanwagoner told the POST Council. "I've made huge mistakes."

The Utah Peace Officer Standards & Training Council at its quarterly meeting on Thursday. (Image by Mark Johnson, FOX 13 News)

The Utah Peace Officer Standards & Training Council at its quarterly meeting on Thursday. (Image by Mark Johnson, FOX 13 News)

POST investigators said in September 2015, Vanwagoner entered on private property while hunting to track a wounded elk. He struck a plea in abeyance -- meaning the case would ultimately be dismissed if there were no other law violations -- but faced discipline. The Emery County Sheriff wrote a letter to POST critical of their actions and defending his deputy.

Noel said the incident spoke to complaints some sheriffs and police chiefs have had about POST disciplining their officers.

"They're held to a higher standard (officers), but they shouldn't be treated differently in certain circumstances, especially when they're minor offenses," Noel told FOX 13. "I wouldn't treat a regular citizen any different than that."

POST Council members debated Vanwagoner's case for some time, discussing his guilty plea and whether the offense merited a six month suspension. Ultimately, the council voted to give him a letter of caution.

Because there was a guilty plea in court POST is required to take action, said the agency's director Scott Stephenson.

"It is an uncomfortable process," he told the council. "But people make decisions and we have to hold them accountable."

POST currently has 101 open cases of officer misconduct under investigation. With approximately 8,500 certified police officers in Utah, the agency has said the total number of those disciplined each year amounts to less than one percent.

Other officers disciplined on Thursday:

  • William Judd, whom POST investigators said admitted to taking generators believed to belong to a former employer he claimed owed him back pay. The POST Council voted to revoke his certification.
  • Jody Kolz, accused of carrying a loaded, concealed weapon without a permit and while off duty from the Utah Department of Corrections without certification. POST investigators alleged he brought the firearm to a confrontation with his wife. POST Council voted for a 3-year suspension.
  • Cory Madsen's badge was revoked by POST Council for lying under garrity. POST investigators alleged he lied to superiors in the Salina Police Department about a Facebook account created to communicate with a city employee.
  • Stephen Sterrett was given a three month suspension after he admitted to taking a controlled substance without a prescription. Sterrett asked for leniency and told POST Council he took a hydrocodone pill for back pain that belonged to his wife. He previously served a 2-year suspension for driving under the influence. POST investigators recommended a 1 1/2 year suspension, but the council reduced it to the three months.
  • Shawn Walton received a 4-year suspension for unlawful sale and furnishing alcohol to a minor. POST investigators said Thursday he gave alcohol to an 18-year-old back in 2014 on numerous occasions. Walton resigned from the Layton Police Department.
  • The POST Council voted to take no action for a Cache County Sheriff's jail employee who pleaded guilty to being intoxicated inside her own home. The council determined her conduct was no danger to herself, her family or anyone but because of the guilty plea the agency had to consider it. "It was a bad plea deal," Spence Austin of the Utah Attorney General's Office said.