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Questions over how Utah disciplines cops

SANDY — His voice quavering slightly, Michael Boone stood at the podium and asked the people who took away his badge to reconsider.

"I'm here to fight for my certification, because I am a police officer," he told the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council on Thursday.

Boone, a former Clearfield police sergeant, was one of two officers who challenged new rules that dictate how POST disciplines police officers.

"When is there enough punishment?" he asked the council.

The Utah POST Council approved a series of changes earlier this year in how it disciplines officers. The guidelines break offenses down into categories. For example, an officer who commits a felony crime or abuses drugs such as cocaine or meth falls into "category A," which could lead to an automatic revocation of certification. Sexual misconduct while off duty that becomes disruptive to a police department could get an officer a one-year suspension as a "category E" offense. Aggravating or mitigating factors affect the grade, and the POST Council still has the option of ruling against guidelines.

It's those guidelines that have police officers who face discipline questioning where they fall in the matrix. On Thursday, the POST Council voted to toughen its rules dealing with officers caught lying to investigators when it was suggested that lying to a police agency isn't as severe as lying to POST.

"Lying is lying," said Mike Larsen, the director of Orem Public Safety.

Boone told POST he lost his job over a sexual encounter he had with a dispatcher. It happened while he was off-duty, he said, and he accepted full responsibility. Although he was a shift commander, he insists he was not the woman's supervisor.

Clearfield's police chief said the liaison became a disruption, and he not only lost an officer, he also lost a dispatcher when she quit. The incident marred what was otherwise a good record, the chief said.

"I try to adhere to the code of ethics and in 99 times I have. I made a single mistake, and I ask for you to reconsider your decision," Boone said.

Boone signed a two-year suspension agreement, which could prevent him from ever working in law enforcement again. He suggested the lengthy punishment may be too much when paired with the individual circumstances.

Ultimately, the POST Council rejected Boone's request, but noted that he has a right to take his case to an appeals court.

Former Utah County Sheriff's deputy Derk Palfreyman also sought to have his punishment reduced. He appealed a POST decision to revoke his peace officer certification.

Palfreyman was charged with misdemeanor theft, accused of stealing livestock equipment from a man he was feuding with over leased ranch land. He struck a plea deal with prosecutors. He admitted to the POST Council that he wasn't exactly forthcoming when Salem police investigated the theft — but he was cooperative with other investigators.

Palfreyman had the support of Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy.

"He has a good history of public service," the sheriff said.

After a divided vote, the POST Council decided to issue a three-year suspension to Palfreyman.

Council members appear to be still getting used to the new guidelines. As they waded through five cases of officers facing discipline, the council rejected two of them, because they said the one-year suspensions were too light.

Those cases ranged from two former Salt Lake County corrections officers who had inappropriate friendships with female inmates, to a Utah County Sheriff's deputy who used a state computer to look a woman up and have sex with her. A Wasatch County Sheriff's deputy had his certification yanked for sexually assaulting a subordinate, and another Wasatch County deputy was disciplined for having an affair with a married firefighter.