Heber City paid thousands to whistleblowers

HEBER CITY, Utah — FOX 13 News has learned that Heber City has agreed to pay two sergeants $7,800 who accused the department of getting back at them for raising concerns about their police chief.

The settlement prevents both whistleblowers from filing future lawsuits.

As part of the settlement, neither side admitted wrongdoing and neither side was allowed to speak to the media.

Contrary to state law, the settlement was withheld from the public for months. The Utah State Records Committee has overruled Heber City’s decision to withhold the document.

FOX 13 investigated: Officials say Heber City retaliated after accusing police chief of choking suspect

The two sergeants said the city retaliated against them after raising concerns about Chief Dave Booth’s use of force against a handcuffed suspect on March 31, 2021.

Body camera video obtained by FOX 13 News showed Booth repeatedly placing his hand on the suspect’s neck while placing him in the back of a police car.

Click on the video above to view the body camera footage.

Sergeant Jason Jarvie said he felt he had no choice but to report the use of force after reviewing department policies. He did not witness the incident firsthand, but filed the report after listening to concerns from officers who were at the scene.

The other sergeant’s name has not been released publicly.

Heber City tried and failed to prevent the public from seeing any evidence related to the incident.

The lack of transparency has been criticized by senior law enforcement officials in Utah.

“Absolutely, it’s public information that should have been released,” said Chris Burbank, a former chief of the Salt Lake City Police Department. “I think there was a better way to handle it, and (Booth) didn’t… That’s creating the thin blue line!”

Public is urging Heber City to take action after FOX 13 probe into boss’s behavior

When questioned, Booth flatly denied the incident ever happened.

“You were investigated for putting your hands on someone’s throat,” said Adam Herbets, investigative reporter for FOX 13 News. “I just want to know what happened.”

“Which never happened,” Booth replied.

“We have the video, sir,” Herbets said.

All bodycam videos were obtained independently from FOX 13 News.

FOX 13 News also learned that Mayor Kelleen Potter contacted the department shortly after the boss was reinstated and told a roomful of officials that “karma is off****”.

City Attorney Mark Smedley confirmed the mayor’s comments. He later argued that the mayor’s intention was not to intimidate whistleblowers.

“It wasn’t necessarily addressed to the complainants,” Smedley said. “It was aimed at the entire department — to say, ‘Be careful what you do when you talk about things and the harm that can occur.'”

Mayor Potter declined to comment.

FOX 13 investigation: City police chief accused Heber of lying about use of force training

Jarvie said his superiors strongly encouraged him to seek a demotion after he reported the boss.

As part of the internal investigation, Booth was never questioned before being cleared of all wrongdoing.

Instead, Wasatch County Sheriff Jared Rigby recorded threatening the promotion of officers in the Heber Police Department.

Some officials and citizens have accused Rigby of being friends with Booth and therefore unable to conduct an impartial investigation.

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

“It really depends on the future – your future in the police force,” Rigby continued. “Well, you can dig in your heels and say, ‘This is how I feel and nobody’s going to change,’ and okay, that’s your choice. You just won’t get trusted positions that have to do with (defensive tactics) and the use of force and sergeant and stuff like that because you’re not willing to learn it and be open to it.

Burbank said he was outraged to hear that Rigby was threatening Heber City officials’ jobs and called the “investigation” a “witch hunt.”

The city tried and failed to keep video of Rigby’s interviews private.

Although Booth was not questioned, Smedley called Rigby’s investigation “one of the most thorough investigations he has ever seen.”

“If it was such a minor use of force, why go to all the trouble to cover it up?” asked Cameron Platt, the attorney representing the two sergeants. “The way the city handled and responded to (the complaint) is far more important (than the use of force) and far worse.”

Heber City settled with the two sergeants for $7,800 within weeks of FOX 13 News’ initial report.

The city then spent the next few months hiding taxpayer spending from the public.

FOX 13 News appealed that decision to the State Records Committee.

“The public has a right to understand how public money is being spent,” Herbets argued at a May 2022 hearing. “In Utah, nondisclosure agreements do not apply to government agencies, particularly when those government agencies are charged with spending public taxpayer dollars.” This is a taxpayer funded scheme.”

“The story has taken its course,” Smedley replied. “FOX (13) News told a complete story. In our estimation, there is nothing else out there.”

The State Records Committee agreed that Utah law requires that the comparison be made available to the public.

The vote was unanimous.

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