PRICE — A judge has rejected a proposed plea deal for Price Mayor Joe Piccolo, sending the disorderly conduct case against the mayor back to the Carbon County Attorney's Office for further review.
Emery County Justice Court Judge Steven Stream decided not to accept the plea agreement after listening to arguments from an attorney for three Utah State University Eastern instructors who allege Piccolo threatened them.
Heidi Nestel, executive director of the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic, argued that her clients have a right to be heard in court before Stream can accept the plea deal. Nestel's clients also maintain that Carbon County prosecutor John Schindler mishandled the case and say Piccolo should be facing more serious charges.
"They want a charge that reflects how serious this event was for them," Nestel said Monday.
On Dec. 3, Piccolo went to the USU Eastern cosmetology department with his 22-year-old daughter to find out why she had received a B instead of an A on a major assignment. One instructor wrote that when she tried to offer an explanation, "(Piccolo) went into a verbal rage."
"He jumped up from the chair, gritted his teeth and snarled in my face that he was going to 'gut this (department) out,'" the instructor wrote in a statement provided to police.
Other instructors offered similar accounts of the incident. They described Piccolo as "intimidating and threatening," said he hit the desk in the office with his fist and "was out of control." One instructor told police she was so frightened that she hid in a closet.
Piccolo has acknowledged that he was frustrated and that he lost his temper, but has denied making any threats.
"Voices were raised — it was a heated argument — but there were no threats made," he told KSL-TV in a Jan. 13 interview.
The mayor said he was so upset because his daughter has been working with USU administrators and cosmetology instructors for months to accommodate a documented disability. When his daughter received a lower grade than expected on a project he had helped her with, he chose to go meet with her instructor.
"I wanted answers," Piccolo said. "I wanted information that I couldn't get. That's what I was there for."
The argument became so intense, campus police were called. Piccolo, who apologized in person to the instructors about an hour after the incident, was cited for disorderly conduct, an infraction.
Schindler, the Carbon County prosecutor who handles justice court cases, said he spoke with the USU instructors and told them he planned to offer Piccolo the chance to plead no contest to the infraction.
Piccolo's plea would be held in abeyance for one year, Schindler said, and he would have to pay a $100 court fee. Piccolo would also be barred from having any contact with the instructors and from entering the cosmetology department at USU Eastern.
"They appeared to be on board with that (plea agreement)," Schindler said Monday, noting that the women later changed their position.
After Stream rejected the proposed plea agreement, Piccolo's attorney entered a not guilty plea on the mayor's behalf. Stream, who stepped in after Carbon County Justice Court Judge Jon Carpenter recused himself, then sent the case back to Schindler's office for screening because it had originally been filed by citation.
Schindler, who has a meeting scheduled with Nestel on Thursday, said he now has the choice of refiling the original disorderly conduct charge, filing a different charge, choosing to refer the case to a prosecutor in another county attorney's office, or declining to prosecute Piccolo altogether.
"All my options are on the table at this point," the prosecutor said. "All of them."