Police officer accused of sexual assault waives prelim rights

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PROVO -- A former Provo police officer accused of sexually assaulting a woman in exchange for not arresting her for DUI went to court Thursday.

Jeffery Westerman waived his right to a preliminary hearing and may be closer to taking responsibility for his actions.

Westerman's attorney hinted for the first time Thursday that his client may be thinking about a plea deal to resolve the case.

It comes as prosecutors were ready to put on the evidence against Westerman.

Prosecutors say they will entertain a plea bargain if it keeps the victim from having to testify -- but only if Westerman takes responsibility for what happened.

The case stems from disturbing allegations that Westerman, a sworn police officer, took advantage of a frightened and helpless woman during a minor traffic accident July 22. The 29-year-old woman from California was involved in that accident near University Avenue in Provo, and Westerman was dispatched to the scene.

After allowing the other driver involved in the collision to leave, Westerman told the woman she had failed field sobriety tests.

According to the woman, whose story is backed up with surveillance video, Westerman threatened to take her to jail unless she gave in to his sexual demands.

The woman reported the assault the next day and Westerman was charged with forcible sexual abuse and obstruction of justice.

"Certainly he was a rogue cop under these circumstances, and Provo police dealt with him appropriately and fired him," said Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson. "Thankfully we don't have to worry about him on the streets anymore."

By waiving his right to a preliminary hearing, Westerman leaves open the door to the possibility of a plea deal.

"We're not resolved and we're probably not even close to resolving the case," said defense attorney Greg Skordas. "We'll probably end up setting this for a trial, but in terms of the preliminary hearing itself we decided to waive that."

Prosecutors say they will entertain a plea bargain, if it keeps the victim from having to relive what happened to her on the witness stand -- but only if Westerman takes responsibility for what happened.

"We're always open to saving a victim of a sexual abuse case from having to testify at trial," Johnson said. "Certainly from both sides we wait to see if we can meet in the middle, but it has to show accountability for their actions."

Westerman will be arraigned Oct. 21 and will have to enter a plea to the charges. If a plea deal isn't reached before then, it's likely the case will be set for a trial.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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