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Public asks Heber City to take action after FOX 13 investigation into chief's conduct

Posted at 10:12 PM, Dec 21, 2021

HEBER CITY, Utah — Members of the public asked the Heber City council to take action on Tuesday after a FOX 13 investigation revealed allegations of threats and intimidation within the Heber City Police Department.

As FOX 13 first reported last week, officers are accusing the city of retaliation after they reported Chief Dave Booth for use of force. They accused 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 internal use of force investigation.

Booth was cleared of all wrongdoing. He did not attend Tuesday's meeting.

Michael Franchek, who lives in Park City, told the city council he was frustrated with the lack of transparency when they also ignored his requests for public records.

"What happened, happened," said Brad Ehlert of Miday, addressing the city council. "I don't have an opinion. Well, I do have an opinion, but I don't care to share that opinion in this forum. What I do care to share is... transparency and trust. Those are some things to take into consideration as you decide how to move forward."

Multiple officers told FOX 13 that Mayor Kelleen Potter addressed the department after Booth's return from administrative leave, telling them that "karma's a b****."

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

"I'm here tonight, not to give my opinion, but simply to ask questions," said FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets. "Mayor, is it true that you told a room full of officers that 'karma's a b****'?"

Mayor Potter chose not to respond to any of the public comments.

"Despite claims to the contrary, there has been no retribution," Smedley said. "While there may have been some statements by individuals in leadership that some may have interpreted as directed or intimidating, it is important to consider such statements in full context... I would like the mayor to kind of discuss (her comments), so that I'm not necessarily just the messenger boy."

"Heber City does not endorse a culture of bullying or intimidation," he continued.

Nick Lopez, who lives in Heber City, said he believes a new investigation needs to be conducted.

"(The chief) placing hands on a handcuffed individual's neck and admitting that he had done this 'hundreds upon hundreds of times' concerns me," Lopez said. "I was proud to hear that a couple of Heber City's finest had the intestinal fortitude and personal courage to report something they had witnessed or had heard about through subordinates... just imagine where we would be if other officers across the country had the same level of courage."

"My concerns, as a citizen, are more after the incident," said Tracy Taylor, who also lives in Heber City. "That's what I have concerns with, whether those officers felt they were retaliated against after the fact."

Members of the public also questioned whether Sheriff Jared Rigby of the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office was the appropriate person for the mayor to choose to conduct an internal investigation, especially because of his personal relationship with Booth.

"The valley is not that big," Ehlert said. "It's really not."

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.

“It really comes down to the future – your future in the police department,” Rigby told one concerned. “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.”

The city did not answer when asked whether Rigby or his agency was authorized to speak on behalf of Heber City, or if Rigby was intended to be a neutral third party.

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.

"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."

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