Salt Lake police chief resigns over sex harassment issue

AP News
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Posted: Jun 12, 2015 12:48 AM
Salt Lake police chief resigns over sex harassment issue

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Longtime Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank resigned Thursday after clashing with the mayor over Burbank's handling of a sexual harassment claim against a deputy chief.

Burbank said he chose to resign after being told he would need to publicly read a prewritten apology about his handling of the harassment claim to avoid being fired.

Mayor Ralph Becker said Thursday that Burbank didn't follow his instructions to demote Deputy Chief Rick Findlay and institute more training to protect other officers from harassment.

But Burbank defended his handling of the situation and accused the mayor of making the move to gain an edge in election year politics. He said the matter was dealt with 1 1/2 years ago.

"When we found out about it, it was dealt with appropriately," Burbank told reporters outside police headquarters. "This decision is not in the best interests of the public. It's election politics and it's extremely unfortunate."

Becker broke the surprising news at a news conference earlier, saying Burbank was out after nine years in the post.

Becker, who is up for re-election against three challengers, said he sent Burbank a letter a year ago about steps that should be taken regarding allegations of harassment by Findlay against three female officers. Becker said Burbank only implemented part of his orders, falling short of expectations.

Burbank said he placed Findlay on administrative leave when he heard of the allegations. He didn't demote him because he wanted him out of the workplace right away, he said.

A demotion wouldn't have changed Findlay's retirement because those benefits are calculated based on the three highest paid years in an employee' tenure, he said.

The women's attorney said last month they plan to sue over their claim that they were sexually harassed. Lawyer Ed Brass said Officer Tiffany Commagere, Sgt. Robin Heiden and former Lt. Melody Gray intend to file a civil rights lawsuit against the city, Burbank and Findlay now that a deadline for the city to respond to their notice of claim has expired.

Brass told the Salt Lake Tribune that the women weren't consulted before Thursday's developments. He said Burbank's departure doesn't change what happened to them, though it may signal that harassment won't be tolerated in the future.

The lawsuit hasn't yet been filed, Brass said in an email to the Associated Press.

Findlay is accused of sharing an image of Heiden and Gray in bikinis and a photo of a nude woman he claimed was Commagere, who denies such a photo existed. He was placed on paid leave in November 2013 amid an internal investigation into the allegations and resigned in June 2014.

The three women say they were reluctant to report their allegations of sexual harassment against Findlay because he occupied a position of authority and oversaw the division that would investigate their claims.

Findlay has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment.

Becker credited Burbank for his service to the city and making the city proud in many ways but said it's time for a new leader.

"I am hopeful that my actions today have another important result: I want every woman in Salt Lake City government to know that we value your public service and that sexual harassment will not be tolerated," Becker said in a statement.

Deputy Chief Mike Brown has been named interim chief.

Burbank has been with the Salt Lake City police since 1991. He made protecting immigrant civil rights a signature issue. He was honored by the ACLU in 2009 for his work on that front. He was one of nine police chiefs to meet with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in 2010 about immigration laws.

Burbank and Becker recently disagreed over Burbank's relationship with Taser International Inc., which makes body cameras the city purchased. Burbank came under questioning about accepting company-paid travel to Taser-sponsored conferences and participation in an online promotional video. He defended his relationship with the company as being appropriate and said he didn't violate any city codes.

But Becker ordered city staff to review whether the rules on relationships with city vendors should be updated after Burbank's actions became public.