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A Salt Lake police officer who was fired after publicly criticizing the way the department investigated the deaths of several young women can legally sue the Police Department.

The Utah Court of Appeals has ruled that Frank Hatton-Ward can proceed with his wrongful termination suit against the city. Hatton-Ward first sued the city over his termination in 1990. A 3rd District judge dismissed the suit, saying Hatton-Ward had not exhausted his administrative remedies before suing the city.But in a ruling made public Thursday, the appeals court ruled that Utah's whistle-blower statute says a government employee does not have to follow civil service procedures for contesting a termination if he believes he was fired for revealing waste in government.

"This is the happiest I've been in five years," Hatton-Ward said Friday. He was fired in October 1989, five months after going public with claims that the Salt Lake Homicide Task Force ignored leads that Hatton-Ward and others provided them in the unsolved murders of several Salt Lake area women.

Hatton-Ward believes a local Hispanic street gang was responsible for several of the murders.

- Deseret News staff writer Brent Israelsen contributed to this report.