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SANDY — The city of Sandy has settled a potential defamation lawsuit threatened by former Police Chief Kevin Thacker, after he claimed Mayor Kurt Bradburn made "false and misleading statements to the media" when he was fired in April 2018 amid allegations of inappropriate touching, mainly hugging women too often and in an inappropriate manner.
The city paid Thacker $100,006.40 — with $25,000 going to Thacker's attorneys to cover legal fees — in the October 2018 settlement that states the agreement does not serve as "an admission of any fault, wrongdoing or liability."
In his notice of claim to the city, obtained Friday through a public records request, Thacker says he wanted to clear his name after alleging that Bradburn said he should be kept away from wives and children because of allegations that he made women uncomfortable with his frequent and unwanted hugs.
The notice of claim contained a "formal demand for a 'name-clearing hearing'" and said Thacker intended to personally sue Bradburn for defamation because of "false and disparaging remarks" about him.
A three-week investigation launched last year, which led to Thacker's termination, ultimately found his behavior was "unprofessional and inappropriate, and that it leads to an inappropriate atmosphere in the police department."
Detailed in the report are "neck massages, touching thighs and hugging cheek-to-cheek" behaviors with women in the office.
Thacker's notice of claim also alleges that when he was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, it was "out of the blue" and that Bradburn had "predetermined" he would fire Thacker.
It is unclear from the heavily redacted 2018 review how far back the allegations dated, though the report refered to complaints "several years ago." Attorney Scott Hagen, who prepared the report, appeared to have talked to at least eight employees, including Thacker.
The notice of claim, dated June 8, 2018, states Bradburn delivered a "false narrative that clearly suggested a long history of sexual misconduct and repeated warnings" to Thacker.
On April 24, 2018 the notice of claim states Bradburn fired Thacker and refutes Bradburn’s statements Thacker had been warned.
The notice of claim states “at no time was Mr. Thacker ever warned or told (let alone repeatedly told) that he was not to hug employees.”
It goes on to state that “ironically” at the end of the meeting, “Mayor Bradburn attempted to hug Mr. Thacker, to which Mr. Thacker pushed back saying ‘Mayor, I can't give you a hug’ — as he had just been fired for hugging.’”
"No one has made a formal complaint, but the women who were interviewed stated that it is not welcome to them. Male officers find the conduct to be unprofessional and embarrassing," states the April 2018 investigation report compiled by Salt Lake City law firm Ray Quinney & Nebeker.
"I found no evidence that Chief Thacker has committed any actual sexual assault, nor any evidence of overtly sexual contact between him and any female employee, whether consensual, or not," the report continued.
The investigation report also noted that witnesses were reluctant, teary and emotional and felt the investigation could make things worse for them. One woman said she felt her participation was disloyal because she had previously accepted Thacker's apology.
Thacker told a representative of the law firm he believed his hugs were proper and innocent, and "denies that he ever hugs in the way described by female witnesses," according to the 2018 report. He may have touched a woman "briefly on the leg, but as a reassurance, not in a sexual manner" and "denies touching cheeks when hugging female officers or employees," the review states. He acknowledged a prior complaint but said it was unfounded.
Thacker, who became police chief in 2014 after more than 30 years in the force, wrote in a 2018 email to Sandy Police Department: "Looking back, I made a lot of mistakes as I learned and tried to conform to a position I never sought."
The email, made public by colleagues, followed a news conference held by Bradburn where he said Thacker's behavior led to a "negative working environment."
Thacker refuted the claim in the email, saying "I respectfully disagree," and that he felt the department "made tremendous progress and are better now than we were four years ago."
In a news conference held April 26, 2018, Bradburn, a human resources attorney, said, "The work environments that these behaviors create are not healthy. Just because you feel like it's OK to touch someone in a certain way because that's your mode of expressing feelings, it doesn't mean that somebody else should have to put up with that."
In Thacker's notice of claim, he said it was the statements made at these April 2018 news conferences that defamed him, including "melodramatic" comments he claimed Bradburn made warning the public that Thacker should be "kept away from wives and daughters."
These press conferences, the notice of claim states, were intended to paint Bradburn as "a #metoo advocate, fighting with/for wives and daughters.'" Thacker said Sandy breached contract by terminating him without cause, refusing to pay three-month severance "he is entitled to under contract."
As part of the agreement to settle Thacker's claim outside of court, the city granted Thacker retirement credentials, and returned his chief of police badge. It was also stipulated that Thacker will cease contact with Sandy police and its employees in regard to his termination, the operations of the department or requests for a hearing.