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Geoff Liesik/KSL TV

Mayor cited for disorderly conduct in confrontation with college instructors

By Geoff Liesik | Posted - Jan. 13, 2015 at 9:34 p.m.



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PRICE — Mayor Joe Piccolo has been charged with disorderly conduct following an emotionally charged verbal dispute with a group of instructors at Utah State University Eastern.

"I wasn't alone in the argument, but my temper was not where it should be," Piccolo said Tuesday. "Voices were raised — it was a heated argument — but there were no threats made."

USU instructors 'scared for their safety'

Statements provided by four USU Eastern cosmetology instructors to campus police the day after the Dec. 3 incident tell a different story.

In those statements, the women say Piccolo showed up in the school's 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.


He jumped up from the chair, gritted his teeth and snarled in my face that he was going to 'gut this (department) out.'

–witness statement


The other three 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.

"He came in with such a violent, vicious attack that they were afraid," said Brad Asay, Utah president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union that represents the USU instructors.

"That's not how parents handle a situation," Asay said. "(The instructors) were attacked, scared for their safety, scared for their lives."

Piccolo readily admits he was frustrated 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," he said. "I wanted information that I couldn't get. That's what I was there for."

USU spokesman Tim Vitale said the university is aware of Piccolo's allegations that the instructors' treatment of his daughter violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and is looking into them.

"We have extensive policies and procedures already in place, and we are implementing required training in the next few weeks for all faculty at USU Eastern," Vitale said. "We take very seriously anytime someone alleges inappropriate behavior by any of our employees.”

Piccolo's side of the story

Piccolo said the campus police sergeant who was called to deal with the situation on Dec. 3 never asked him or his daughter to provide a statement about what happened, so he wrote one on his own and provided it to police and prosecutors.

In his statement, Piccolo says he and his daughter were taken into a small office in the cosmetology department. As soon as the blinds and the door were closed, one of the instructors in the room "immediately was confrontational and intimidating, telling me not to talk," Piccolo wrote.


In his statement, Piccolo says he and his daughter were taken into a small office in the cosmetology department. As soon as the blinds and the door were closed, one of the instructors in the room "immediately was confrontational and intimidating, telling me not to talk," Piccolo wrote.

He added that his daughter opened the door at one point during the dispute and tried to leave the office, but another instructor closed it and said the issue needed to be resolved.

"(The instructor) stopped us from leaving three times," Piccolo said.

The argument in the office finally ended when campus police and two campus administrators arrived. In his statement about the incident, USU Eastern Disability Resource Center coordinator Karl Burnside wrote that before the office door was opened, he overheard an instructor tell the Piccolos "don't leave. We need to talk this out."

Burnside wrote that emotions were still high outside the office, with police nearly arresting Piccolo's daughter for disorderly conduct after she told an officer to "shut up and mind his own business."

The father and daughter were eventually escorted to the vice chancellor's office. Piccolo said he returned to the cosmetology classroom with a USU administrator 30 minutes later to apologize to everyone for his behavior.

"I was remorseful very quickly for my actions," he said. "I still am."

Asay, however, said an apology is not enough for the instructors.

"They would like to see justice done," said Asay, who disputed Piccolo's claim that USU instructors didn't make adequate accommodations for his daughter's disability.

"They feel the attack on them ... goes well beyond him just apologizing, getting a small fine and getting a citation for the conduct he did," he said.

Case on hold

The four women initially supported a deal proposed by Carbon County prosecutors that required Piccolo to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, an infraction. That plea would be held in abeyance for one year, and Piccolo would have to pay a $100 court fee. He would also be barred from having any contact with the instructors and from entering the cosmetology department at USU Eastern.

The agreement may now be in jeopardy because the women have contacted the Utah Attorney General's Office to voice their concern that county prosecutors didn't appropriately screen the case.

On Tuesday, Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate dismissed the idea that Piccolo received any special treatment.

"I really think this was the appropriate charge, and I think it was handled appropriately," Strate said. "The mayor doesn't have a criminal record, and I think he was given the benefit of a plea in abeyance because he has no prior record and was apologetic. I think it would have been handled in an identical fashion for anybody else."

Even without possible intervention from state prosecutors, the case against Piccolo is now on hold. Carbon County Justice Court Judge Jon Carpenter has recused himself from handling the matter, which means the case will likely be transferred to Emery County Justice Court.

For Piccolo, who has already paid the $100 court fee required as part of his plea, the delay is unwelcome.

"This (incident) is an anomaly, a stumble," he said. "I fell flat on my face. I'm trying to recover and go forward, and that's what I'd like to see happen."

Geoff Liesik

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