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EPHRAIM — Three Ephraim police officers, or 60 percent of the department, say they will resign effective 8:30 p.m. Wednesday if Chief Ron Rasmussen is reinstated.
Last week, Ephraim city officials announced that an investigation conducted by an outside agency found that the chief had been failing to properly fill out incident reports. Following the investigation, Rasmussen was placed on five days' paid leave, though city officials said his actions did not rise to the level of criminal charges.
But Monday, three of the police department's five officers — including two veteran officers — publicly announced their "reluctant" resignations in a strongly worded letter to the Ephraim City Council, taking effect at the time Rasmussen is scheduled to return to duty.
"We write today to resign, effective the moment Chief Rasmussen is reinstated, and to put the community that we have loved and served collectively for nearly (two) decades on notice that we have lost all confidence in our chief and in the city officials that are responsible now for a coverup of epic proportions," the letter stated.
"We cannot and will not serve as public servants under these conditions."
Larry Golding, Jared Hansen and Darren S. Pead say Rasmussen's actions constituted "gross negligence going back decades," and any other person would have been fired for such conduct.
Saying the chief is overworked does not pardon him, the men say, while also noting that the city deserves a leader who will not "shirk important responsibilities" and "make ridiculous excuses when so much is at stake."
"As members of this department, this is simply unacceptable. We wish for you and the community that we have proudly served to know that we have taken a great risk to our professional careers — including the risk it presents to our families — by 'blowing the whistle' on what we believe we were morally, professionally and legally obligated to report," the letter to the City Council continued.
"An independent investigation has determined that the chief will not be prosecuted. However, there is no excuse that should justify his continued employment as a law enforcement officer for the city of Ephraim, let alone a chief of police," the officers stated.
Ephraim City Manager Brant Hanson said Tuesday that the city is sticking by its chief and will accept the resignations of the three officers. The city will then move forward with its plans to make improvements within the police department based on the investigation by the Utah County Sheriff's Office, Hanson said.
"We really have a department that is just not jibing. The culture has really been going downhill over the past few years, and really this is a chance to hit the reset button," he said.
That "reset" will include making sure Rasmussen becomes a more traditional chief who handles administration issues and isn't used as a backup patrol officer, Hanson said.
Problems with the department were deeper than just neglected paperwork, he said, though he declined to go into detail Tuesday.
City leaders are expected to receive the final report on the investigation into Rasmussen during a closed-door meeting Wednesday, Hanson said. After they have had a chance to look at it, the report will be released to the public, he said.
Hanson confirmed that the three officers who plan to resign raised the allegations that prompted the investigation. He called them "great officers," noting that Golding has been with the department for 20 years and Hansen for about 14.
"But this community has a strong support for its chief at the same time," the city manager said.
Hanson said he is disappointed that the officers have decided to resign and that they're doing it in such a public way.
"I think this could have been handled much differently, for sure," he said. "The issue that has come up is there are a lot more allegations coming out that are unverifiable and they're purely speculative. There's no evidence to support what they're saying.
"If those were concerns, then those should have been brought up and we could have had the investigation research some of those items at the same time. So as they're leaving, they're throwing out other allegations, and that's disappointing," Hanson said.
City officials had already announced plans to hire an additional police officer prior to the three officers announcing their resignations. Ephraim will now be looking to hire four new officers right away.
Until then, the city will contract with the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office for help with law enforcement, as well as tap into Ephraim's part-time officers.
Hanson said he does not anticipate problems with hiring new officers, noting that the starting pay in Ephraim is higher than the average police department.
Ironically, Hanson said, that is due in part to actions taken by the chief and City Council about a 18 months ago to get pay raises for two of the departing officers.