NewsFox 13 Investigates


FOX 13 Investigates: Officers say Heber City retaliated after they accused police chief of choking suspect

Posted at 9:48 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 02:01:57-05

HEBER CITY, Utah — Heber City police officers say they have been retaliated against after accusing the chief of choking a handcuffed suspect while placing him into the back of a police car earlier this year.

The city has tried and failed to obscure all records and information related to the use of force investigation.

Chief Dave Booth was on scene when officers responded to reports of an intoxicated man near 1000 South 400 West on March 31, 2021.

Officers said, upon arrival at the residence, Jessie James Rodriguez tried to fight them and grab one of their guns.

Body camera video obtained by FOX 13 shows Rodriguez threatening and struggling with officers.

Rodriguez was eventually handcuffed and treated by paramedics. Booth grabbed the suspect by his shirt and started walking him to the patrol car, with the assistance of another officer.

Click the video above to view the body camera video.

Until that point, officers on scene said everything they saw was appropriate. Then they watched Booth’s right hand repeatedly latch onto the suspect’s throat as he struggled with Rodriguez to get him into the back of the police car.

A veteran Heber City police officer, who left the department in part due to the chief’s conduct, agreed to speak with FOX 13 on condition of anonymity.

Although he is not one of the officers who reported the chief, he said he agrees with those who did, especially after reviewing body camera video obtained by FOX 13.

“I couldn’t hear or tell if the suspect was breathing,” the officer said. “I couldn’t hear or tell. I did see that it was a grab and there was pressure placed on the trachea.”

“We have an obligation to police ourselves,” he continued. “Nobody’s above the law. Nobody’s allowed to do whatever they want. I don’t care if you’re the chief of police. You can’t do that to somebody that’s handcuffed in the back of a police car. You can’t do that.”

Sgt. Jason Jarvie, who was also not on scene, filed a formal complaint after reviewing body camera video and listening to statements from at least one concerned officer who witnessed the incident firsthand.

The officers said they felt they were required to report the use of force, per department policy.

Jarvie said his supervisors strongly encouraged him to take a demotion after reporting the chief.

He has since left the department “solely due to the city’s retaliatory actions.”

FOX 13 Investigates: How Owlet smart sock went from a parent favorite to an FDA warning

Jarvie has provided FOX 13 a copy of his personnel file, showing he has never been disciplined.

Cameron Platt, the attorney representing Jarvie, said Heber City violated Utah’s public employee whistleblower law, which protects public employees who make a good faith complaint about a suspected violation of law, rule, or regulation.

“The way that the city treated (the complaint) and reacted is much more important (than the use of force), and much worse,” Platt said. “If it was such a minor use of force, why so much effort to cover it up?”

Chris Burbank, who used to be chief of the Salt Lake City Police Department, agreed to review the case with FOX 13 as a neutral third party.

“Absolutely it’s a case that should be reviewed,” Burbank said. “Especially in light of the position that the department took shortly before this happened regarding any sort of neck or choke restraint.”

Burbank is referring to an email sent out by Heber City’s use of force sergeant, months prior to the incident.

According to the email, the sergeant reminded officers that “any type of chocking (sic) technique” is not allowed.

“I don’t ever want my officers to put their arm, their hands, or a tool around someone’s neck,” Burbank said. “Is that proper technique that’s taught to police officers? No, it’s not.”

Burbank said, in his opinion, Booth should not have even touched the suspect – especially with so many other uniformed officers standing around.

“As the administrator, I never wanted to put my officers in a position to have to investigate me. That is just a horrible position to be in,” Burbank said. “But if it were to happen, boy, that is going to be the most open and transparent investigation that has ever been in the history of the organization, because I would never want anyone to accuse me of somehow covering up.”

Chief Booth was placed on administrative leave for more than a month and eventually cleared of all wrongdoing.

Despite multiple completed investigations, the city has refused to release body camera video, talk about the case, or even explain why Booth was placed on leave.

All body camera video in this story has been obtained independently by FOX 13.

Read - Inmate claims Utah prisons mismanaged pandemic care

“Absolutely, it is public information and should have been released,” Burbank said. “I think there was a better way to handle this, and (Booth) did not.”

Detective Tammy Thacker, a spokesperson for the department, has ignored multiple FOX 13 requests for comment.

Booth has also declined requests for comment.

FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets attempted to speak with Booth on his lunch break.

“You were under investigation for putting your hands on someone’s throat,” Herbets said. “I just want to know what happened.”

“Which never happened,” Booth responded, before getting into his car and driving away.

Booth did not file a use of force report.

FOX 13 discovered Booth’s flat denial of the incident contradicts his statements made to state investigators.

“Obviously there was some force used to get him in the car,” said a Department of Public Safety investigator in a recorded interview with Booth. “Would it be surprising to you if there was bodycam or dashcam footage that showed your hand on his neck at one point?”

“No, I don’t think it would be surprising,” Booth responded. “I just viewed it as something I’ve done literally hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of times.”

In August, days after the state cleared Booth of criminal wrongdoing, Mayor Kelleen Potter sent out an email stating that the chief was returning to work.

The email did not specify what the complaints were, other than to say multiple investigations found the complaints to be “not substantiated... found to be baseless and without merit.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety said he could not explain Potter’s email, because investigators never told Heber City the complaint was “baseless” or “without merit.”

“The video clearly shows that there is a basis for a complaint,” Platt said. “If the chief had never grabbed the suspect by the throat, that would be a baseless complaint.”

Multiple officers say Mayor Kelleen Potter told the department that "karma's a *****" after Chief Dave Booth returned from admin leave.

According to multiple officers, the city called a mandatory police department meeting – the day after Potter’s email.

“(Potter) was very upset somebody in our agency had gone to the media... She told us – and I quote her, this is Kelleen Potter from Heber City – that she believes in karma and ‘karma’s a b****.’”

City Attorney Mark Smedley verified the mayor’s comments but said he could not remember the context.

Potter has ignored FOX 13 requests for comment.

“That is unethical,” Burbank said. “Whoever implied, suggested, (or) hinted at it should no longer be employed.”

Officers said Booth also addressed the department at the end of the mandatory meeting.

“And this guy’s angry when he’s talking to us... ‘I’m going to make you guys tell me who did this. I’m going to make you, and you’re going to do what I tell you, and if you don’t, I’m going to fire you.’”

As part of the case, Potter placed both Jarvie and Booth under an internal investigation conducted by the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office.

Some officers have accused Sheriff Jared Rigby of being friends with Booth, and therefore incapable of conducting an impartial investigation.

Both the city and county have refused to provide copies of the completed investigation.

Despite being a county employee, videos obtained by FOX 13 show Rigby repeatedly spoke on behalf of the city, sometimes lecturing or threatening officers rather than asking questions.

“There is no excessive use of force, and so your perception is wrong,” Rigby told one concerned officer. “What Dave Booth did is not even use of force.”

“It really comes down to the future – your future in the police department,” Rigby continued. “So, you can dig in your heels and say, ‘This is how I feel and no one’s going to change,’ and okay, that’s your decision. You just won’t get any trusted positions having to do with (defensive tactics), and use of force, and sergeant, and those kinds of things, because you’re not willing to learn and be open minded to it.”

Burbank said he was outraged to hear the sheriff threaten the jobs of Heber City officers, especially because those officers work for a different law enforcement agency.

“It’s a witch hunt,” Burbank said. “I cannot believe you would even wander into that area... that is the creation of the ‘thin blue line.’”

Rigby has ignored FOX 13 requests for comment and continues to refuse to provide a copy of his internal affairs investigation.

Multiple officers have already left the Heber City Police Department as a result of the case. Others say they are in the process of trying to do the same.

“He needs to be fired. This is what’s wrong with law enforcement,” one officer said. “They’ll never tell on him again. They’ll never do anything like that again. This will never happen again in Heber City.”

Story Idea or Tips
If you have a story idea or tip for the FOX 13 Investigative unit, please share it with us below: