The City of Moab Police Department recently received a national review for both its handling of a domestic violence incident this summer involving murder victim Gabrielle Petito [See “Petito case puts Moab PD in national spotlight” in this edition. -ed.] and other systemic issues within the ministry.
Amid these issues, Moab Police Chief Bret Edge has requested indefinite leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, effective Monday, September 27. No reason has been publicly stated for Edge’s request for time off.
Moab Deputy Police Chief Braydon Palmer, who acts as chief while Edge is on leave, spoke at the council meeting and described the department as an agency of action and transparency .
However, at the same meeting, a resident and former prosecutor alleged that several reports of the misuse of body cameras by officers were ignored, an issue also recently addressed by Seventh District Court Judge Don Torgerson.
Even before national attention in the Gabrielle Petito case focused on the Moab police, the department was engaged in inquiries into misconduct and officer resignations.
At the Moab city council meeting on September 28, local lawyer and former prosecutor Happy Morgan said she had filed several formal complaints against officers who had abused their body cameras for several years.
“I’ve been practicing criminal law since 1996 and know the difference between right and wrong in criminal law,” Morgan told the board. “I want to make it clear that chest camera violations at the City of Moab Police Department are a chronic and dangerous problem. “
She added that she worked with eight different law enforcement agencies and that the MCPD is the only one with such outstanding body camera issues.
Morgan said she filed several complaints with Moab Police Chief Jim Winder in 2018 and that neither Winder nor current Chief Bret Edge, who was deputy chief at the time, addressed the issue. problem.
After filing another complaint in 2019, Morgan requested documents through the Government Records Access and Management Act and found that no bodycam training had been provided to the department in response to his concerns. She doubts that action will be taken on another more recent complaint on the same issue.
“I’m concerned this complaint will be ignored or brushed under the rug like other complaints… have been in the past,” Morgan said.
Morgan noted that even in the high-profile Petito case, two MCPD officers responded. Video of an officer was shown; the other officer’s body camera does not appear to have been activated.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Morgan said. “I don’t want to stay here reading this on file, but I followed all policies and procedures available in the city to resolve this issue and was ignored. Now is the time to act before someone else gets hurt.
Moab resident Jayne May shared a personal story of being abandoned by local law enforcement when she was in a dangerous situation. May told Moab City Council that when she experienced a life-threatening event, she felt the MCPD, especially Edge, was slow to respond and said the case fell outside of jurisdiction. of the MCPD, refusing to help May further. She recounted how, in June 2020, she filed a citizen complaint through the official MCPD process, describing various violations of the violence against women law, body camera policies, policy training of the police department and even the public comment policy itself.
“And after 15 months, my complaint is uninvestigated and unanswered,” May said. “I can only conclude that there is an effort to protect the chief of Moab.”
She said she wondered what to do when the system meant to right wrongs and protect victims couldn’t remedy its own failures.
She urged the council to take firm action to correct the failings of the department.
Palmer spoke to the council to address two points: body cameras and internal affairs investigations.
Palmer said the MCPD body camera policy follows state law exactly. According to this policy, officers must ensure that they are equipped with a working camera before entering service and must wear this camera in a visible manner or notify people that they are registered.
The July 2021 version of the MCPD policy manual states that officers should activate their cameras “whenever the member thinks it would be appropriate or useful to record an incident”.
“It’s very clear when we should, when we shouldn’t, when we are allowed to turn off out of respect for victims, witnesses and to discuss departmental decisions and things of that nature with supervisors,” said Palmer on departmental policy at the September 28 board meeting.
“None of my staff objects to wearing these things,” Palmer added. “Ninety-nine percent of the time they exonerate my agents of wrongdoing. They protect us and we appreciate it.
Palmer recognized that human error is a factor in ensuring cameras are used appropriately and spoke at length about camera design, battery life, and other technical issues.
Palmer said he could not address details of the ongoing investigation into the MCPD’s handling of the appeal involving Petito, which occurred on August 12. Instead, he gave a general overview of internal affairs investigations.
“When the word ‘investigation’ comes out, it sounds like a big, scary thing,” Palmer said. However, he said he believed internal affairs investigations were also being used to exonerate the police and exonerate them of wrongdoing.
An internal affairs investigation is triggered by a specific allegation, Palmer said. The officer concerned is notified and may or may not be placed on administrative leave, at the discretion of the supervisor. Often the survey is sent to an outside agency for completion.
“The results usually come in the form of a recommendation,” Palmer said. For example, investigators may recommend more training or discipline for the officer.
“I have never seen an agency fail to act on recommendations if they referred to an outside agency,” Palmer added.
An external investigation was conducted into the legality of a search carried out by Moab agents during an incident in December 2020. The agent involved in this incident resigned, although the investigation formally found no fault in the conduct of the agent during this call.
Four other officers resigned this spring and the department struggled to find accommodation for the new hires.
Moab City Council recently considered collecting a property tax to help raise funds to support the police department as well as to fund infrastructure needs and generate funds for “rainy days”, but ultimately decided to do not apply the tax.