Players in a legal brouhaha swirling the American Fork Police Department seemed to leave a heated State Records Committee hearing Wednesday disappointed, disheartened and somewhat dismayed.
Tempers flared on both sides, frustrated at the repeated demands for information about a police probe. It was the third time the committee had heard a request from Bill Jacob, who cites the Government Records Access Management Act for a legal reason to obtain city files.On one side, Jacob accused the city of "thumbing its nose" at the public-records law. On the other, American Fork attorneys charged Jacob of overly broad demands and posturing for newspaper headlines.
"We obviously have a very fiery situation between the parties here," said Betsy Ross, the committee's chairwoman, calming Jacob and City Attorney Kevin Bennett after a loud exchange about the number of GRAMA requests filed by Jacob.
The committee denied a request by the American Fork resident to order the city to turn over additional documents relating to a purported investigation of the police department for alleged misconduct.
Another hearing for court documents of a civil-rights lawsuit filed by 24 police officers against an American Fork administrator, attorney and former mayor ended with the panel again deciding to refrain from ordering a Salt Lake law firm representing the city to copy records for Jacob.
"This is a fishing expedition," said committee member Jeffrey O. Johnson, adding that specific papers had not been requested about the police investigation and city officials insist they have already complied with a previous ruling to give Jacob documents about a police probe.
"We have two council members who say there are no records," said Will Fehr, a committee members, "and we already have given an order to hand over all documents."
But Jacob contends city officials "stonewall" his requests for information. He believes there are more records the city does not want to make public.
"For some reason, when the heat is put on, they mysteriously find records," he said.
He says he's a concerned resident who wants to know about a police probe that was promised, and alluded to in public by several city officials, after former Mayor Jess Green and Councilmember George Brown came forward last summer with concerns about resident claims of police misconduct.
Green issued a letter of termination to Chief John Durrant and placed several officers on administrative leave. His decision, however, was immediately countered by the council, who voted to retain Durrant, refuting Green's claims he had the power make such personnel decisions.
Jacob says city leaders have commented in public that an investigation cleared the department of any wrongdoing. So, in turn, he wants to see detailed findings.
Councilman Ricky Storrs, who also works with local police as an emergency medical technician, testified at Wednesday's hearing that informal inquiries were made in police circles about the allegations and were deemed unfounded.
"From day one, with Councilman Brown, he'd come to me politicking and saying we've got problems in the police department," he said. "I've never seen any facts to justify the allegations. In my mind, there's nothing that would prove the allegations correct."
At least one panelist of the state-appointed committee is growing weary of such claims by that no record of a probe on which to base decisions about the department exists.
"Nobody knows what . . . is going on down in American Fork except a privileged few," said a frustrated Fehr.
But attorneys Bennett and Kristin VanOrmann say they've complied in full to any request for records. Combined, they said they've given Jacob more than 1,500 documents he's asked for.
"Recalcitrant attitude? I'm not sure," Bennett said, adding that Jacob's blanket requests for records about the probe, which officials now say is on hold because of potentially costly litigation, have city officials guessing about which documents are relevant to the request.
Despite Jacob's insistence he wasn't given 80 to 120 pages of records, VanOrmann said she'd given Jacob all the papers she had in her files, which also are available in a court docket.
Another hearing is scheduled for August to debate whether documents about settlement negotiations with police officers should be made public.