When it comes to police discipline, does the punishment fit the crime?

Posted at 4:21 PM, Sep 28, 2017

SANDY, Utah -- The agency that certifies and disciplines police officers in Utah took action against eight officers.

But members Utah's Peace Officer Standards & Training Council appeared to have some heartburn over the level of punishment they were handing out. At its quarterly meeting on Thursday, the POST Council wrestled with a number of cases and whether the punishment fit the crime.

In one case, POST was asked to take action against a former police officer who tried to commit suicide, but was unsuccessful. He was facing a three year suspension of his badge for reckless burning. The officer's attorney, Lindsay Jarvis, told the POST Council he had tried to set himself on fire in his car but was rescued.

"My client's intent was to kill himself," she said. "At no point was there any indication he intended to harm others."

Jarvis explained the psychiatric problems the former officer faced. Some council members questioned whey they were disciplining him at all.

"Hopefully as council, we can remember the dramatic work and the dangerous work our people are doing every single day," Utah Department of Corrections executive director Rollin Cook said. "The impact it's having on our folks."

After more deliberation, the POST Council gave him a year-and-a-half suspension.

In another case, former Duschene County Sheriff's deputy Jason Sabin asked the council for leniency after he gave a jail inmate in the midst of severe alcohol withdrawals some medication. Sabin said he did not consult the jail nurse.

"I did not have any ill intentions with providing this medication," he said. "I knew and could see the inmate was suffering and needed assistance."

Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel sided with Sabin.

"I don't see anything that he did maliciously. He may have had some bad judgment," the sheriff said.

Pleasant View Mayor Toby Mileski agreed.

"He did this out of compassion and to save someone's life," he said.

The POST Council took Sabin's proposed four year suspension, then cut it to two years.

As the internal affairs agency for police officers in the state, POST grapples with the level of punishment. Some officers tearfully plead for mercy, pointing to the toll a mistake has had on their lives. Officers have lost jobs, marriages and other relationships. But POST has also repeatedly said police officers are held to a higher standard.

"We're held to a higher standard and we need to take that into account," said Noel. "However, we have to be careful. These are people's lives and careers and they may have made a mistake in their life."

The number of police discipline cases is increasing. So far, POST said it has 51 active investigations of misconduct under way.

"Total complaints we've received for this quarter is 75," said Lt. Alex Garcia. "Which is way up from last quarter."

In other disciplinary cases the POST Council considered:

  • Neil Anderson was given a three-month suspension after POST Council said the former corrections officer took a pair of TVs from work home in an effort to fix a cable problem. "I'm sorry for that behavior. I should have known better," he told the POST Council.
  • Carlos Gonzalez was given a two-year suspension for falsifying information on a police academy application.
  • Springdale police officer Rulon Jones was given a letter of caution after POST Council said he contacted a dispatcher and had her look up personal information about his daughter for a passport application. It is against rules to use state background check computers for personal use, POST said.
  • Utah Department of Natural Resources Ranger Candace Tschogl was given a three month suspension following an accusation of sexual conduct on duty. Tschogl was accused of meeting another officer in a maintenance yard at a state park. "I was never being paid, I was never on duty, I was never in a uniform and I did not have a badge," she told POST Council. An administrative law judge ruled that the maintenance yard constituted "law enforcement property" but POST council members broke with that and slashed the three-and-a-half year suspension to three months.
  • Former Utah State Bureau of Investigations officer Jason Whitehead was given a two-and-a-half year suspension for DUI and carrying a dangerous weapon while under the influence of alcohol. POST Council said he admitted to being intoxicated while on duty and in a department vehicle.
  • Eric Zeeman with the Utah State Bureau of Investigations was given a letter of caution after POST Council said he entered in a relative's name during a training on how to use background check computers. He was supposed to use the name "Yogi Bear" for training purposes, POST said.