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One of Salt Lake City’s highest-ranked officers will not be prosecuted

Posted at 9:30 PM, Jun 14, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors from two different agencies have declined to file charges against one of Salt Lake City’s highest-ranked officers. Still, more than 11 months later, the officer remains under internal investigation by his own department.

The Cottonwood Heights Police Department opened an investigation into Captain Stefhan Bennett on July 1, 2022.

He was at the Porcupine Bar and Grille when, according to a bartender, he became upset with his friend being IDed.

“He was drinking a Guinness. It was the first one that I had served him,” the bartender said. “He’s normally very nice... I walked around the corner, and he said, ‘What you’re doing is really ****ed up,’ and I said, ‘I’m just doing my job,’ and he said, ‘Well, you’re doing your job wrong.’”

Captain Bennett oversees the Salt Lake City Police Department’s airport division. He was a known “regular” at the restaurant who came in “maybe once a week,” according to the bartender.
“He said, ‘I’ll remember that, and next time, if I see you outside of here, just wait and see what happens to you,’” the bartender described.

Body camera video shows a manager at the restaurant also spoke with investigators.

“I went up to him and I said, ‘Hey, I’d just like to get your side of the story about what just happened there,’” the manager said. “He said, ‘I don’t have to ****ing tell you ****. I’ll just ****ing take care of this.”

A prosecutor for Cottonwood Heights screened the case for disorderly conduct but ultimately decided against filing charges.

“It is my opinion that the suspect's actions did not rise to the level of violating a criminal statute, and so I am declining charges,” wrote attorney Tucker Hansen. “Specifically, I don't think that what he did rose to the level of Disorderly Conduct.”

According to a report from the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, Captain Bennett “contacted other employees at the bar in an attempt to get them to pressure (the bartender) into letting this go.”

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office screened the case for witness tampering but declined to prosecute after learning the witness in question would not come forward.

“That may be the result of people wanting to move on with their lives, or people being afraid, or the time that elapses,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “(What’s written in the police report is hearsay) unless the witness actually wants to come forward and testify to the specifics of what they said."

LaMar Ewell, who recently retired as deputy chief, said he believes Captain Bennett was simply talking to friends who worked at the bar when they called and asked about what happened.

Gill said it’s impossible to understand the content or context of the conversation without the witness cooperating. He said the conversation would not rise to the level of “witness tampering” unless Captain Bennett threatened the witness or asked them to testify falsely; it’s not witness tampering to ask someone to tell the truth.

“I couldn’t reach a conclusion to say this is a completely innocent matter. That’s not what I’m saying,” Gill said. “At the end of it, there was just not sufficient evidence.”

Kyle Jeffries, a retired detective with no ties to this case, said he agrees with the decision not to charge Captain Bennett.

He said he’s confused why the case is taking so long to run through SLCPD’s internal affairs process.

“You don’t need to make a big deal out of it in front of everybody,” Jeffries said. “As an officer, I certainly wouldn’t want to go out in the public and bring attention to me and start stomping my feet.”

For the first time in nearly a year, SLCPD acknowledged on Wednesday that Captain Bennett still works for the department and that the internal affairs case remains open.

When FOX 13 News asked what’s taking so long, the department said it had no further comment.

“Is there any requirement or recommendation from you or your office for (SLCPD) to wait on their IA case until your case is finished?” asked FOX 13 News investigative reporter Adam Herbets.

“No. I do not get to tell a police agency what to do and how to do it,” Gill responded. “Some agencies are very quick. Some agencies are slower.”

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