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South Davis County's new fire chief has a criminal record - but Davis Fire District officials say they were aware of the 12-year old incident when they hired John W. Speed.

Speed, who replaced Brent Argyle last month as chief of the South Davis Fire District, was charged with felony assault more than a decade ago in Aurora, Colo., after he reportedly shot at two Aspen police officers while he was drunk.The felony and one misdemeanor - reckless endangerment - were later dropped in exchange for Speed's pleading guilty to possession of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, according to Rocky Mountain News reports.

Speed confirmed that report Friday in an interview with the Deseret News. Court records on the matter have been sealed, an Aspen District Court clerk said. (Please see box on B2)

Speed, then chief of the Aurora, Colo., fire department, was attending a Colorado Municipal League convention at nearby Snowmass when the incident occurred.

Two officers were patrolling in the area about 1 a.m. when they heard a gunshot and a stuck car horn, according to police affidavits cited by the newspaper.

Officers said Speed had fired his .32 caliber revolver into the steering wheel, causing the horn to blow continuously. They said Speed fired the second shot as they approached his car. The bullet lodged in the post of Speed's car, the newspaper reported.

News stories said that Speed, after being read his constitutional rights, admitted firing at the officers.

"That's absolutely not true. There were no officers around when the second shot went off," Speed said Friday.

The first shot was fired into the car's steering wheel and the second went into the car's floorboard, he said. "(Police) thought the noise was firecrackers going off."

He said he never read the news story that reported he admitted shooting at the officers.

The incident is "old news," he said.

Speed's boss at the time, Aurora City manager Robert Broom, suspended him for three weeks without pay and put him on six month's probation. Speed served a 10-day jail sentence and underwent four weeks of alcohol abuse treatment after pleading guilty, the paper said.

"I obviously was drinking too much at that time and (the treatment) did help me," Speed said Friday. He said he no longer has a drinking problem.

In 1977, he was cited for disturbing the peace at an Aurora motel where he was drinking with fellow conventiongoers, the paper also reported. He was suspended from his fire chief duties without pay for five days.Speed said he discussed the incidents with a selection committee organized by the district board.

The board, composed of the mayors of Centerville, Woods Cross, North Salt Lake, West Bountiful and County Commissioner J. Dell Holbrook, never questioned him about the incidents, however, he said.

David H. Wright Jr., Woods Cross mayor and board chairman, said board members were aware of the shooting and 1977 incident when they hired Speed March 1.

"We had a full background investigation done and those allegations (that he shot at police officers) simply aren't true," Wright said.

Board member Holbrook said the shooting incident, however, "doesn't sound too familiar."

Neither Holbrook nor Wright was aware Speed had been charged with a felony.

Board members chose to overlook the shooting incident because of Speed's qualifications and a favorable report they received from Kent Hedenstrom, a Davis County sheriff's office sergeant, Wright said.

Hedenstrom spent four days in Aurora doing a background check on Speed.

"Nobody that runs a 300-person fire department that's in the public eye comes out absolutely spotless," Hedenstrom said of his investigation. "But nobody could say anything bad about (Speed) personally or professionally that would in any way harm what he's doing now."

Hedenstrom said he checked out the shooting incident but found "it wasn't as big as it was made out to be."

Speed resigned from Aurora's fire department last summer amidst a controversy regarding the treatment of women in the department.

Two women alleged they had been sexually harassed or discriminated against. Neither said Speed had sexually harassed them.

A federal judge heard one of the woman's cases last September but ruled in favor of the department.

Board members were aware of Speed's resignation when they agreed to pay him $44,500 a year to serve as the district's chief, Wright said.


(Additional information)

Board defends chief

Following is a statement from Woods Cross Mayor David H. Wright Jr., who is also chairman of the South Davis Fire District board of directors, on Chief John Speed:

"If bringing to light a man's past mistakes can also bring to light his impressive accomplishments (in the time) since those mistakes, then perhaps it is to a degree justifiable.

"The background investigation revealed to us as a board that John Speed is a powerful example of the extent to which a man can overcome a problem. In fact his most impressive accomplishments have come (in the aftermath of) his problem, including national recognition for a joint training facility he developed with Denver City and County which saved the citizens 8 million dollars. His hazardous materials team ranked highest in the nation. He served on the International Association of Fire Chiefs Hazardous Materials Committee and served two terms on the Colorado Incident Command Committee by appointment from the governor. He was also appointed by the governor to serve on the State Criminal Justice Advisory Board for three terms.

"These are only a few of many accomplishments to indicate why we appointed him chief in spite of the unfortunate mistakes of his past. We as a board are confident we have one of the best fire chiefs (who) can be found and that time will confirm it."