EPHRAIM — The problems with the Ephraim Police Department went deeper than its chief not filling out paperwork, according to the final report on the embattled office.
An investigation conducted by the Utah County Sherriff’s Office at the request of Ephraim City officials found a divided department that included patrol officers who did not trust their chief to the point they believed their safety was being compromised, and a chief whose conduct — while not criminal — left the door open for a possible lawsuit.
The culture of mistrust within the department resulted in officers purposely unplugging GPS tracking devices in their patrol cars so the chief wouldn't know where they were, not filling out police reports as instructed by the chief because the officers didn't like the system, and writing "unprofessional statements" in police reports, according to the investigation.
But an attorney representing the three officers who resigned following Chief Ron Rasmussen's short suspension said the trio should not be held at fault for what has happened with the department. Bret Rawson contends that if not for the three officers, the problems with the chief would still be happening today.
The investigation found that in the past 10 years, Rasmussen failed to complete more than 200 reports — including cases that involved burglary and theft, according to the investigation's final report.
"One case in particular that is frustrating to the officers is the (name redacted) case, sexual assault of two young boys," the report states.
Attorneys, other law enforcement agencies and state social services would often request police reports of cases investigated by Rasmussen, only to be told they were not available.
"Being this negligent on reports, though not rising to a criminal level, is far from professional and could possibly open up the city to litigation," the investigation concluded.
Furthermore, officers in the town of about 7,000 said they felt their safety was compromised because Rasmussen — currently the state's longest-serving police chief — would routinely receive calls for police assistance on his personal phone and would tell officers to go check out the calls for service, without ever going through emergency dispatchers, the report found.
"Officers stated they do not trust Chief Rasmussen. They do not believe he knows 'how to be a cop,'" according to the report.
Despite the alleged insubordination by his officers, the report found that the chief may have exacerbated the problem by refusing to formally discipline or write them up, choosing instead to just pull the officers aside and talk to them, hoping it would solve the problem.
The problems with the Ephraim Police Department first came to the public's attention in June when the city announced that Rasmussen had been placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation. At the time, the department had a total of five certified officers: the chief, his sergeant and three patrol officers.
When the investigation was completed, it was announced that Rasmussen was overworked in the understaffed department and had been letting paperwork slide. While his actions did not rise to the level of criminal charges, he was placed on an additional five days of administrative leave.
That decision outraged the department's three officers — Larry Golding, Jared Hansen and Darren S. Pead — who levied the original complaint against the chief. They contended that Rasmussen's actions constituted "gross negligence going back decades," and any other person would have been fired for such conduct. They believe the chief is guilty of official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor. All three officers submitted their resignations effective the moment Rasmussen resumed his duties.
The Deseret News obtained a copy of the recently completed investigative report of the department through a Government Records Access and Management Act request. Among the many problems identified through the investigation:
- Officers not following the proper chain of command, speaking directly with City Council members about their problems rather than the chief, sergeant, city manager or mayor.
- Officers not liking the department's template for filling out police reports, so they opted to do it their own way.
- The sergeant in charge of reviewing police reports and clearing them did not fully read those reports. The officers also alleged that Sgt. Len Gasser and Rasmussen were "covering for each other" for their insufficient reports, and that Gasser would often "approve" incomplete reports.
With regard to the chief, the investigation found that since February of 2007, Rasmussen was responsible for 237 of the department's 272 incomplete reports.
"Ninety-percent of them, if you look through them, are agency assists or lockouts, someone locked out of their car. So you have quite a number of minor (cases)," Ephraim City Manager Brant Hanson said of the types of police reports not being completed.
But there were also some bigger cases, such as alleged sexual assault investigation of two boys five years ago.
"That one is a big deal," Hanson admitted.
Other agencies had requested copies of that report, including the Utah Attorney General's Office and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, but it was not completed.
Rasmussen did not create a police case report number for that investigation — something typically done within 24 hours for police reports — until more than a month later, the investigation found. But Hanson said Rasmussen did interview the victims and others in the case.
"The issue is he didn't document it," Hanson said.
When Rasmussen was placed on administrative leave in June, the city reassigned the still ongoing investigation to another officer.
When interviewed by investigators, the mother of the two boys expressed frustration with Rasmussen's lack of attention to her case but did not believe it was done as a cover-up or to benefit anyone in the case, the report states.
Nearly every person the Utah County Sheriff's Office interviewed as part of the investigation described Rasmussen as a good people person, and a man with honor and integrity. But many also knew about his problem of completing police reports.
The records clerk for the Ephraim Police Department said that when other agencies request police reports by Rasmussen, "more often than not, the report has not been completed. She stated that this is very frustrating to her" and that she is "unable to do her job at times" because of it, according to the report.
"The chief is really good with people, but not with paperwork," Trista Jordan said.
"It just frustrated me that he wouldn't do his reports," said Judi Gines, who also used to work in the department's records division.
When interviewed for the investigation, Pead said he knew of at least one case that was dismissed in court because Rasmussen had not completed his reports.
"Rasmussen finally added a narrative approximately two weeks after the case was dismissed," Pead said, according to the report. "(Pead) stated that he felt bad for the victims that had not received justice."
Investigators asked Rasmussen about his inability to complete reports. "He stated that it was never his intention to not complete his reports. He stated that he had sat down several times intending to get his reports done, but that something else would inevitably come up, he would get busy, and 'it all just snowballed.'"
'Just got busy'
On Monday, Rasmussen told the Deseret News that he fell behind on paperwork after trying to balance his administrative duties with getting out in the community and trying to help residents.
"Just got busy with running the department and the general stuff of the police chief. And I put more time into dealing with the community and community policing than putting time where it should have been. Now I'm trying to rectify that and move forward," he said.
Rasmussen said he never purposely failed to complete a report to benefit a person involved in any case being investigated. Others interviewed as part of the investigation agreed that they did not believe Rasmussen was trying to "cover up" anything by not doing reports.
Rasmussen admitted that Gasser had cleared "very few" of his incomplete reports, which he believed was Gasser's way of trying to help the chief "catch up" — something Gasser later confirmed to investigators, the report states.
As for the chief personally receiving calls from citizens rather than going through dispatch, the officers said it posed a safety issue because the chief typically provided "very little information" when sending an officer to a scene, whereas dispatchers continually relay pertinent information to an officer, the report found.
The chief, on Monday, admitted it was another area that he needs to change.
"Definitely some changes need to be made, and the policing has to be left up to the officers, and I need to become a chief. And that's one of the things that was identified in the investigation, is we just need to refer the people to dispatch to make their complaints and then the officers follow up through dispatch," he said.
Lack of policies
The investigation also found that the three patrol officers often did not fill out their own police reports the way the department wanted because they did not like the template they were required to use.
But Rawson said there was no policy for the three officers to follow in the first place.
The investigation concurred in its conclusion that the department "is operating without complete policy and procedures," and that new policies were about to be put into practice but hadn't. The Utah County Sheriff's Office recommended the new policies be put into practice immediately.
Pead is mentioned in the investigation as being the most outspoken opponent of the template. Rasmussen even noted to investigators that the other officers didn't complain about the template until Pead, who used to work for the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office, was hired.
The report said Pead "is and has been very insubordinate on several occasions," and "has refused or disobeyed a direct order" from both Rasmussen and Gasser in regard to the report template.
In an email sent by Pead to Rasmussen at the end of May, Pead expressed his frustration with the department over the template situation.
"Words cannot express how disappointed I am with this department right now. After the extreme corruption I dealt with in the county, this is over the top for me. I never would have come here if I would've know it was this way here," the email states. "This is absolute madness. …"
Pead also talks about a growing "hostile" work environment in his email. "I would rather work in any other place than here right now," he wrote.
Because of his dislike for the template, the investigation found that Pead would sometimes add unprofessional statements in his reports.
In one case, under the heading "Synopsis," Pead wrote, "If it's important, I guess he'll call back." Under "Suspects" he wrote, "Who knows."
In another report, under the heading "Use of force," Pead wrote, "I used a somewhat agitated and authoritarian tone with the suspect. In Spanish I might add."
Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson, who was also interviewed as part of the investigation, said Pead had similar insubordination problems while working for his department. He said Pead "believed that he was always right and did not like to be told what to do," according to the report.
Golding, Hansen and Pead all admitted to purposely unplugging the GPS devices in their car. This was done so the three could meet and discuss their problems with the chief and the department without the chief knowing, the report states.
Rasmussen chose to handle everything personally and did not properly document these incidents of insubordination, according to the investigation.
"I see now I should have handled this differently," he told investigators in the report.
Gasser said he was "encouraged by the chief not to write up officers" and instead, pull them aside and talk to them. "Let's just work with him and see if we can find some common ground," Gasser said the chief would tell him.
"Sgt. Gasser was very frustrated with the belief that he could not hold his subordinates accountable for their actions and refusal to follow a direct order," the report found.
Rawson said Monday that it was hypocritical for the city to point out his clients' problems with using the template for report writing and focus so much on that, when it was the chief's report writing problem that was the bigger issue.
"It strikes me as ironic that there would be a suggestion that whistleblowing be considered insubordination," he said.
In fact, Rawson said if not for Pead and the others, "It stands to reason there would have been no change” to the ongoing problems with Rasmussen and the incomplete reports.
"The whistleblowers are the reason Ephraim will repair itself, if ever," he said.
"I'm extremely proud of my clients coming forward," said Rawson, who noted each man — two of them veterans of the department — put their entire law enforcement careers on the line by doing so.
He called it an "act of sacrifice" in order to help the community.
Hanson, as many citizens have noted, also said that for three decades Rasmussen has always been very personable, whether it's with citizens or his own department. In fact, one of the new officers just hired by the police department got into law enforcement because Rasmussen sat him in his police car when he was a child and talked to him about the tricycle he had just stolen, Hanson said.
"But there's still that need to hold people accountable. And that's what we've had a great number of discussions with the chief, is disciplining employees is not a punishment but it helps keep your department in order," Hanson said. "Holding someone accountable for stealing something at a store and not prosecuting them doesn't necessarily help them at all."
The investigation also found that the officers in the department were "stressed" due to the workload and lack of manpower. The report found that on average, each Ephraim officer personally handled 386 calls in 2016.
Ephraim is now looking not only to fill the three spots of the officers who resigned, but also hire a fourth patrol officer immediately with hopes of hiring a fifth officer next year. Two of those slots have already been filled, with one officer starting just this past weekend.
Hanson said seven more interviews with potential candidates were scheduled for Monday.
The city has also ordered Rasmussen to receive additional leadership and management training and to help draft a plan for fixing the report filing problem.
"Chief Rasmussen is not completely off the hook. The reports (problem) is a serious issue," Hanson said.
The chief will essentially be on probation for the next six months as the mayor, City Council and city manager watch to see if the needed changes are made, he said.
Likewise, Hanson said city officials had hoped that the three officers would have stuck around to help change the culture that had been created. Even though they chose to resign, Hanson did not speak poorly of them.
"We're in a great position to move forward. They were great officers. Everybody in the police department was great. They all brought something different to the table that really made it a good department. But our culture wasn't there," he said.
"It's very unfortunate," the chief said of the whole internal affairs investigation.
"I'm just looking forward to getting the issues rectified and corrected and moving forward with the department," he said. "I love the community, I love the people, and I love to make a difference."