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Law enforcers face suspension during quarterly POST Council meeting

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During the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council’s quarterly meeting Thursday, members voted on the certification status of 16 law enforcers who faced discipline for various violations.

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SANDY — Domestic violence. Falsifying time cards and altering government records. Leaving a police K-9 in a hot truck resulting in the animal's death.

On Thursday, during the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council's quarterly meeting, members voted on the certification status of 16 law enforcers who faced discipline for various violations.

All law enforcers in Utah have to be certified by POST. When allegations of misconduct arise, POST officials conduct an investigation and impose sentences for confirmed violations ranging from a letter of caution up to revocation of POST certification.

Former Cache County Sheriff's deputy Jason Whittier had his certification suspended for a year over the death of his police K-9. Whittier, who was fired from the department, pleaded guilty Oct. 2, 2017, to aggravated cruelty of an animal, a class B misdemeanor, for leaving his 8-year-old Belgian Malinois, Endy, in his patrol truck after he got home from work on a hot July afternoon. When he went back to his truck about 11 1/2 hours later, Endy was deceased. Whittier did not attend Thursday's hearing to contest his penalty.

In another case, former Unified Police Lt. Dan McConkey, who has since retired, had his certification suspended for three years. McConkey called 911 to falsely report a residential burglary in an effort to prevent his wife from engaging in an extramarital affair happening inside the house he reported. He was charged criminally and pleaded guilty to making a false emergency report, a class B misdemeanor, with the plea held in abeyance.

One of the cases that generated the most debate among council members was that of former Draper police officer Michael Street. Street, a well-respected officer since 2007, purchased a truck in Utah County that would not pass emissions testing in Salt Lake County. Because of that, he used a friend's Utah County address to avoid emissions testing.

What Street didn't realize was that the incident qualified as a felony offense for falsifying a vehicle title.

"This was a mistake and I ultimately paid with my career," he told the council while pleading for leniency in his certification penalty. "I had no idea there was any kind of a law against that."

Street was eventually convicted in court with the charge reduced to a class A misdemeanor. But under POST guidelines, he was subject to a three-year suspension of his certification. He has already been out of work since he was forced to resign 17 months ago.

Some on the council, like Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel, came to Street's defense, using words like "craziness" and "embarrassing" to describe the penalty associated with the crime.

"This is way over the top," he said. "To hammer him like that is simply not right."

St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton concurred that Street "deserves a second chance."

After three separate motions were entertained to change the length of Street's suspension, the council agreed to suspend his certification for 18 months, meaning he will be able to get a job with a department in a month.

The other case that generated a lot of debate, and even a lengthy closed-door discussion to address character and competency, was that of Anthony Williams, a former investigator for the Utah Attorney General's Office.

During a heated argument with his wife in 2014 — in which Williams was "incredibly intoxicated," according to his attorney, Lindsay Jarvis — Williams pointed an unloaded gun at his own head and pulled the trigger in front of his wife. He pleaded no contest to reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, in 2017 in 2nd District Court.

Williams' wife claimed he also pointed the unloaded gun at her, but no evidence could be found to substantiate her account, leading to a dismissal of that allegation, Jarvis said. The POST council's decision on Thursday was based solely on Williams pointing the gun at himself.

POST guidelines called for the revocation of Williams' certification.

Jarvis and Williams, however, asked the council for a three-year suspension. Jarvis described Williams' relationship with his now ex-wife as toxic. She said Williams was depressed and suicidal but he did not commit an act of violence against his wife. She even pointed to a case the council heard earlier that day of an officer who hit her husband with a glass mug during an argument. She received a suspension.

Ultimately, however, the council noted that loaded or not, a handgun was used, and accepted the recommended guidelines to revoke his certification.

In at least five cases, including Williams', alcohol was cited as a contributing factor. The first three cases the council heard on Thursday all involved DUI, including one off-duty officer who crashed his car while driving with a blood alcohol level of .227, and another who crashed his marked patrol car while in uniform, according to the council.

Violations that involve alcohol use are common each quarter, but POST Director Scott Stephenson admitted the council saw a lot this time. While he can't say if every alcohol problem can be tied to job-related stress, Stephenson encouraged all law enforcers to get the help they need no matter what the source of their stress is.

"Anytime you're exposed to stress, and ugly stress that we see in this profession, I would like to send out a clarion call that officers need to go and get help. Even if you don't think you need help, go talk to somebody, a third party that is unrelated to family, like a counselor, and just talk about what happened. In fact, I wish that every officer once a year would go see a counselor just to be proactive. Because you just don't know what load that you're carrying until you actually purge it and talk about it," he said.

In addition to the 16 disciplinary cases, the POST Council also announced Thursday that seven law enforcers had simply relinquished their POST certification for incidents ranging from obstruction of justice, DUI, falsifying government documents and having sex while on duty.

Clarification: In a previous version, it was stated that Anthony Williams pointed an unloaded gun at his ex-wife. Although those were the original allegations, his attorney, Lindsay Jarvis, said there was no evidence to prove that, and prosecutors ultimately agreed. The POST council's decision on Thursday was based solely on Williams pointing the gun at himself.