ROOSEVELT — It’s been more than a year since a teen sexting scandal rocked the small Utah town of Roosevelt, but finally progress is being made following a KSL investigation.
The KSL Investigators spent months looking into allegations, trying to figure out why it appeared nothing was done to get justice for the victims.
Now four juveniles involved in the sexting ring are being held accountable, referred to juvenile court. In addition, the city of Roosevelt called for an investigation of its own police department.
Police Chief Rick Harrison on Monday talked with KSL for the first time about the investigation and the newly-released review. It’s a 35-page independent investigation detailing how the Roosevelt Police Department mishandled a major teen sexting case in April 2018.
KSL Investigator Mike Headrick asked if Harrison believed there were any victims in the case.
“I don’t know,” Harrison said. “It’s not a clear cut victim/suspect case. Any sexting case is difficult.”
In April 2018, a Roosevelt police officer was tipped off to an alleged teen sexting ring at Union High School. Dozens of kids were believed to be involved.
According to police reports, girls felt badgered, humiliated and pressured into sending nude photos of themselves to boys, who in turn, would share the pornographic photos on a Snapchat group. In short, they were receiving and distributing child pornography.
In the eyes of some, month after month after month went by with zero repercussions.
The KSL Investigators looked into it, exposing a lack of action by the school district, the county attorney, and Roosevelt police. The city then called for an independent review and former Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder investigated.
“Problems occurred, and those problems seem to be of fairly long standing and need to be rectified,” Winder said.
Throughout the review, released in draft form, Winder addressed what he saw as systemic problems in the police department, specifically in this case.
“I think in looking at it and the known outcomes, which were negative, one can safely say that much of those negative outcomes could have been avoided,” he said.
One of the most revealing issues in the sexting case, pointed out by Winder, was claiming a mistake was made because the officer working the case never should have been investigating.
Officer Peter Butcher was on “restricted” status, meaning prior discipline, because of the way he handled a separate case. It should have prevented him from investigating any cases that could potentially be tried in court.
“It sounds like Butcher shouldn’t even have been on this case,” Headrick said.
“Before we were aware of the case, the report was done,” Harrison responded. “By the time the report was already done, and you know, you can’t change a police report there, you deal with what you have.”
In the review, Winder writes: “Officer Butcher, at the time he received this information, had no investigative responsibilities. In fact, Officer Butcher had been ordered to not engage in any investigative functions … which resulted in significant and potentially irreversible errors concerning this investigation.”
“It’s not uncommon for minor cases not to be reported until the report is done,” Harrison told KSL
Headrick interjected that “this one wasn’t minor.”
“No,” Harrison said. “It’s one that we wished would have been reported sooner.”
The review goes on to state, “The lack of oversight delayed or eliminated the timely and efficient collection, protection and analysis of critical victim, witness, and suspect statements and the recovery of critical evidence.”
Some of that critical evidence was student cell phones. A total of five were collected out of the alleged 27 teens involved. Nothing illegal was found on those phones.
In the midst of it all, Harrison knew mistakes had been made, and for the past 14 months he didn’t want to talk about it — not by phone, not by email, and as surveillance video shows him sneaking out the back door of the police station months ago, he didn’t want to talk with KSL in person.
The report chastised him for staying silent on the case to the media.
What you can’t find in the report is the effect that silence and alleged mishandling of the case had on the victims.
“Do you feel like you’ve lost the trust of some of the citizens of Roosevelt?” asked Headrick.
“I think there’s some that probably feel that way,” Harrison said. “I don’t think a lot, but I think there are some. And to them, to those people, I hope they give us a chance.”
In the report, Winder suggests that Roosevelt City and police need to have better policies in place to ensure something like this never happens again.
Click here to view the full report, as well as changes that Roosevelt City officials say they’re already making.