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Am.F. officials study rights suit

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A report on alleged misconduct within American Fork police ranks has been placed on the back burner while city officials focus on a potentially costly civil rights lawsuit filed by 24 police officers against the city administrator, attorney and former mayor.

Members of the American Fork City Council voted to go into an early morning executive session Thursday to reportedly discuss the potentially costly litigation against the city.Mayor Ted Barratt on Tuesday declined to release an agenda for the closed-door meeting. Peppered with questions from an audience poised to hear details of a proposed police investigation, Barratt would only say the meeting was to discuss a pending lawsuit.

Kristin VanOrman, an attorney with Strong and Hanni, the Salt Lake law firm selected by American Fork's insurance company to represent the city, confirmed the council met Thursday to talk about the police lawsuit.

"What we have agreed to do is start negotiations," said VanOrman, who was not at the 8 a.m. executive session. "Nothing has been discussed at this point."

VanOrman did not know when representatives and legal counsel from the city and police department will come to the table for talks.

Rumors swirled the city Tuesday about a report on the department Barratt was planning to release at City Hall. But at the meeting, the empty-handed mayor said that despite some media reports to the contrary, he didn't have any new information to present to the public.

The confusion stemmed from a comment he made in council meeting about a month ago. He said then he expected to be able to talk about a possible probe of police wrongdoing in a few weeks.

"Things change overnight," he said. "Things are moving along, but there is nothing groundbreaking to report as of yet."

Barratt did say, however, that he does not expect the civil-rights case to go to trial.

A U.S. District Court lawsuit was filed after John Durrant was terminated last September as American Fork's top cop by former Mayor Jess Green, who was ousted in the primaries of last year's election.

Durrant was reinstated immediately by council members, but police department employees, who also name Administrator Carl T. Wanlass and City Attorney Tucker Hansen in court proceedings, claim Green's actions caused undue workplace tensions.

Officers also say city leaders violated their constitutional rights of free speech and due process when a gag order was issued to restrict what could be publicly said about a settlement with former officer Phil Terry.

Green also alleged police officers made death threats against citizens, sold a confiscated vehicle back to the owner at a reduced price, mistreated and used excessive force on two teenagers and conducted an "in-house" child-abuse investigation of an officer's former spouse.

Police officers deny Green's allegations. Some residents, however, want Barratt to hire an investigator to look into the charges. Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson urged the mayor in an April letter to retain an independent counsel to clear up any questions in the community.

Kathryn Collard, a Salt Lake-based attorney who is working for the officers, has said officers want a monetary settlement as a result of the political melee, in addition to revised city policies to protect officers in free-speech situations.