SALT LAKE CITY — A man once charged with child sex abuse, only to have his case thrown out due to faulty evidence, is now suing Roosevelt City and its police department for $7.5 million.
Jerahmia Hardman, 30, of Roosevelt, filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in late September against Roosevelt City, the police department, and specifically officer Pete Butcher and detective Tracy Bird.
In 2014, Hardman was accused of sexually abusing a young girl. He was taken to the Roosevelt Police Department to be "interrogated" by Butcher and Bird, according to the lawsuit.
"The entire interrogation was riddled with lies and falsehoods about the allegations and the evidence that had already been collected. The lies and manipulation were intended to get Mr. Hardman to admit guilt," the lawsuit states.
Hardman was later charged in Uintah County's 8th District Court with aggravated sexual abuse of a child.
But it wasn't until nearly two years later during court proceedings that police disclosed significant portions of the video-recorded interview with Hardman were missing, the lawsuit states.
"There was no plausible explanation for the missing portion of the video and the officers did not disclose to the court or the prosecutor that there were significant portions of the video missing until a motion was filed and they were compelled to do so. The missing portions of the video would have contained exculpatory evidence. The missing portion of the video would have shown officers manipulating the defendant's statements into what they claimed to be an admission," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit further contends the missing portions of video include the officers telling Hardman what to write in his confession and even telling him how certain words are spelled, the suit states. Attorneys for Hardman believe "the officers destroyed that portion of the video because it contained exculpatory evidence," the lawsuit states.
Hardman, a friend of Hardman, and Hardman's mother later met with Butcher for a recorded interview. During that interview, the mother stated she was skeptical the written admission came from her son.
In court, Hardman's mother testified that her son cannot read or write beyond a rudimentary level, according to court documents, and he would not have been able to write some of the words contained in his purported admission on his own.
That interview with the friend and mother was never presented to the court, according to the lawsuit.
"By the time the interview was discovered, something had happened to the recording and it no longer existed," the lawsuit states.
In September of 2017, 8th District Judge Edwin Peterson wrote a lengthy ruling dismissing the case against Hardman. In his decision, the judge noted that not only was a long portion of the video missing, but possibly the most crucial part of interview.
"The fact that the purported written confession was not part of the recording is highly suspect, particularly in light of the evidence that the defendant cannot read or write at a competent level," wrote Peterson, who further went on to say that the officers' failure to inform the court in a timely manner that the alleged recorded confession was lost "is extraordinarily troubling."
Hardman's prolonged court proceedings lasted three years before the charges were eventually dismissed. During that time, he lost his job, was not allowed to have contact with the alleged victim for two years, and garnered heavy legal bills, according to the lawsuit.
Roosevelt city leaders have hired attorney Heather White to represent them in the case. In a prepared statement, White said the city has yet to be formally served with the complaint, but she was aware of the underlying facts. She said the missing video confession is not really missing.
"We have the video and always have. The end of the recording is garbled and then cuts out. Earlier downloads of the recording ended before the confession, which is presumably what the trial judge had when he issued his ruling in the criminal case. However, we were able to restore several minutes of the recording, in which Mr. Hardman confesses to touching his (victim)."
This isn't the first time Butcher has been accused of falsifying evidence.
In 2016, Joshua Shumway filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against Butcher and the city. Shumway, a nurse, was charged with raping and threatening to kill a patient in 2013. But in 2015, the charges against Shumway were dismissed. While dismissing the case, the judge blasted Butcher in his 33-page ruling for the detective's "superficial and insufficient" investigation.
In his lawsuit, Shumway said, "Butcher misled, fabricated and omitted information in order to obtain an arrest warrant directed to Josh Shumway.
"Officer Butcher's probable cause affidavit, and his later testimony concerning it, contained false statements, exaggerations, and outright fabrications, and further omitted facts that were necessary to prevent statements contained therein from being misleading," he continued.
The lawsuit was settled in August 2016. Butcher has since retired from the Roosevelt Police Department.