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FOX 13 Investigates: Moroni City police chief believes he was fired for writing mayor’s son a ticket, not use of force

Posted at 9:46 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 00:32:14-04

MORONI, Utah — The FOX 13 Investigates team has learned new information about the sudden firing of the Moroni City police chief, just a few weeks ago.

Mayor Paul Bailey said he made the decision to terminate the chief after receiving two complaints about excessive use of force.

Chief Bob Hill believes the firing was retaliation for writing the mayor’s son a ticket.

According to the city, the mayor is allowed to make unilateral decisions about the police chief’s employment, without input from Moroni City Council, due to the “at-will” nature of the position.

“Taking the job was a gamble. I’m the fourth chief in four years,” Hill said. “This is my town, and this is where I want to work.”

First complaint – October 2021

The first complaint against Hill came from Moroni City resident Floralyn Martinez, who was arrested at city hall on October 14, 2021.

Martinez was there to dispute a water bill. A city employee said she asked Hill to attend the meeting because she felt “threatened.”

In an interview with FOX 13 News, Martinez said she had a panic attack before the meeting and tried to calm herself down as best as possible before entering city hall.

Martinez said Hill was impatient, rude, and told her to leave. She said Hill grabbed her, took her to the ground, and handcuffed her too tightly.

“It’s my city. I should be able to walk in there and have a conversation without being fearful that I’m going to be attacked,” Martinez said. “He just grabbed me and started pulling on me, and of course I pulled back.”

Martinez was charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with an arresting officer. She has pleaded not guilty.

The city said there was no body camera video or surveillance video of the incident, due to a “power surge” from earlier that month damaging the technology.

“He laughed at me,” Martinez described. “‘Good luck with that! It’s your word against mine!’”

“I put my hand on her elbow. She pulled back and started swinging at me,” Hill described. “The force that was used was deemed appropriate, and that was the end of it.”

At the time, Bailey said he trusted his chief.

“But now that I’ve had another allegation with another female,” Bailey said, “ makes me question what really happened.”

Second complaint – February 2022

The second complaint against Hill came from Moroni City resident Jeannie Strobel, who admits she was driving through town on a suspended license with a cracked windshield.

Strobel said the windshield was damaged because of a crash involving a deer. She described Hill as aggressive.

“He took me out of the truck, grabbed me by my neck, and threw me to the ground,” Strobel said. “I back my blue, but when you take authority that far – that's not right.”

Hill’s description of the incident is different. In addition to the cracked windshield and suspended license, he said he decided to arrest Strobel due to outstanding warrants.

FOX 13 News obtained copies of video interviews conducted by Bailey as part of an internal affairs investigation.

“Did you grab her by her neck and pull her out of the car?” Bailey asked.

“No,” Hill responded. “She got out of the vehicle on her own.”

In both cases, Hill said he gently lowered the women to the ground.

In both cases, the women had their husbands on speaker phone during the arrests.

In both cases, there’s no body camera or surveillance video to know whose story is accurate.

“I’m assuming she had a panic attack or some kind of anxiety attack, and she turned around and made a dash back for the driver’s seat,” Hill said. “She said, ‘I’m not going. I’m not going,’ and tried to get back into the driver’s seat.”

Hill said he restrained Strobel against the side of the car. He said Strobel eventually tried to lunge into traffic, requiring him to restrain her on the ground and call for backup.

When Hill called for backup, Bailey responded.

Bailey isn’t just the mayor. At the time, he also served as a deputy with the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office. Prior to that, he served as a trooper with Utah Highway Patrol for nearly 20 years.

Bailey said the scene was calm when he arrived.

“Females usually don’t need to be handled that severely by the police,” Bailey said. “With two people telling you similar stories, and then the officer telling me something different, it makes me wonder.”

Hill said he could tell something was “off” when Bailey responded.

“He didn’t look at me. He didn’t talk to me,” Hill said. “This was two hours after I gave his boy a ticket... My impression is that he had already his mind up from the second I gave his boy a ticket, that he was going to get rid of me.”

The mayor’s son

After being terminated, Hill said he felt he was being retaliated against – for ticketing Bailey’s adult son just hours before the Strobel arrest.

Hill said the mayor’s son threatened him during the traffic stop.

“What specifically did he say to you?” asked FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“‘You know who my dad is,’” Hill described. “He says, ‘You know what professional courtesy is, don’t you?’ … He told me that, if I give him a citation, next time I need backup his dad’s not going to be there.”

“Is there any body camera video of this?” Herbets asked.

“No, there’s not,” Hill responded. “I wish there was.”

“My son’s 22. He’s a hard worker,” Bailey said. “He’s a little smart aleck sometimes, but I have no idea what he said. That’s why I wish we had a body camera.”

Again, there was no body camera video recorded in February because the city says it never replaced computers or body cameras after the October 2021 power surge.

Both Hill and Bailey pointed fingers at each other when asked why the problem was not fixed. Hill said Bailey told him not to order a new body camera, due to budgetary concerns. Bailey said he told Hill it was fine to order a new body camera.

Neither of them have email documentation to verify their side of the story.

The city does not have a body camera policy.

A review of Bailey's internal affairs interview with Hill shows they never discussed the traffic stop.

“You know, it is what it is. I write people tickets, so if (Hill) wrote somebody a ticket, whoopedydoo,” Bailey said. “He’s not being retaliated against. When people get let go, they’re going to look for anything to say about why they got let go.”

In an effort to confirm or deny the validity of Hill’s story, to see if there might be a pattern, FOX 13 News spoke with other law enforcement officers who have also pulled over Bailey’s son.

UHP pulled over Bailey’s son in March 2016 in Juab County. Dash camera video obtained by FOX 13 News shows that Bailey’s son was courteous, briefly mentioning his father’s name after he was given a warning.

UHP ticketed Bailey’s son in May 2018 in Sanpete County, but the body camera video was deleted when the trooper retired, pursuant to UHP records retention policies. The trooper said he never felt threatened, but he remembered the driver “name dropping” his dad.

Hill ticketed Bailey's son on August 5, 2021 in Moroni City and said that his body camera was activated.

Moroni City employees said they were not able to locate the video.

Questioning the mayor's investigation

After his termination, Hill said he felt Bailey’s investigation into the Strobel arrest was unfair and incomplete because Bailey did not interview witnesses.

At the time, Hill only mentioned the existence of one witness during the internal affairs interview with Bailey.

“There was a witness,” Hill said. “I do have a name and phone number of somebody who was driving by in that time frame.”

Bailey told FOX 13 News he did not interview the witness because he did not have the individual’s contact information and that nobody had ever come forward.

“He was terminated at my discretion,” Bailey said. “If he would have gave me names and numbers, I would have definitely got ahold of them... I felt it was the right decision, and I would do it again.”

When FOX 13 News attempted to speak with the witness, she said she did not want to get involved.

However, FOX 13 News was able to speak with two additional drivers who described observing portions of the incident.

The first driver said she observed approximately 30 seconds of the incident and that she doesn’t personally know any of the individuals involved.

“Who knows what the before and after glimpses were. He looked calm and like the situation was under control,” she said. “When I got closer, she kind of shifted, so he had to kind of stop her from moving, and he put her against the car... My actual thoughts as I drove by was, ‘Oh my goodness, am I going to have to stop and help a cop?’”

The second driver said she only observed officers responding to the incident after Hill apparently called for backup.

“A lady was standing behind her car, facing south and facing Bob Hill,” she said. “It looked like they were talking.”

As part of the internal affairs investigation, Bailey also interviewed Jeannie Strobel and her husband Jeremy Strobel.

At the conclusion of the investigation, Bailey recorded himself terminating Hill.

“Jeannie (Strobel) seems a little bit eccentric. She maybe exaggerates things a little bit, but she was on the phone with her husband,” Bailey said. “We’re responsible to make sure Moroni’s liability is as low as possible... We’ve decided – I've decided – we're going to go a different route as far as law enforcement in town.”

The future of Moroni City policing

Hill was the only full-time employee of the Moroni City Police Department.

The Moroni City Council is now considering whether to contract all of its police services to the mayor’s (former) employer, the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office.

Bailey retired from the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office on March 9, 2022, after each of the incidents described in this story and after his interview with FOX 13 News.

“The captain and sheriff knew I was going to retire in the spring,” Bailey said. “It just looks like I’m leaving because of this stuff.”

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