To calm irate customers, Paul Booth, a 53-year-old former Dominos Pizza delivery driver, would offer free soda or breadsticks. However, he says, going into “customer-service mode” was a mistake in trying to smooth things over with a Sandy City Police officer, to whom he offered a pizza after being pulled over for speeding in June 2009.
The gesture, Booth says, was a joke, but the Sandy City Justice Court is not laughing. The court told Booth in August it was turning the case over to the 3rd District Court in West Jordan, where he´d be charged with third-degree felony charges for attempting to bribe an officer.
Amazingly, the months Booth spent waiting for a hearing on the felony charges could have all gone away had he decided never to fight the speeding charges. Sandy City Justice Court spokesperson Trina Duerkson says the felony charges would have been dropped had he agreed to pay the speeding charges. Instead he chose to fight all the charges.
Booth, however, doesn’t remember hearing that offer in court. He remembers an unsympathetic response.
“They treated me like a child molester, so I just got the fuck out of there,” Booth says.
Booth’s strange ride from a mundane traffic stop to facing felony charges all started when he was cited by Sandy Police Officer Mike Wekluk for going 50 mph in a 45 mph zone, traveling east along 9400 South. Booth says he told the officer that despite the fact there was a construction sign listing the speed ahead of him as 35 mph, he was still in a 45 mph zone. “The officer very forcefully said, ‘Well, you were doing 50!’” Booth says.
This is when Booth says he told the officer: “Hey, if you go easy on me, I can get you a pizza.”
Booth says the officer quickly told him such a transaction would be considered a bribe.
There was something else Booth probably shouldn’t have told the officer writing him a ticket. In a written statement Booth prepared for his felony hearing, he writes that “You know, I pay your salary as a taxpayer and I don’t appreciate the fact that all the money I’m going to make tonight is going to Sandy City. I hope you feel really good about that.”
Booth says he showed up for an August 13 hearing at the Sandy City Justice Court, and only then learned that the court didn’t find any humor in his offer of a free pizza to law enforcement. Booth says the Sandy City prosecutor told him the speeding charge was being dismissed so that the Salt Lake County District Attorney could pursue third-degree felony charges.
Trina Duerksen, a spokeswoman for the Sandy City Justice Court, says that Booth was offered the chance to have the felony charges dropped if he would plead guilty to the 50 mph in a 45 mph zone, but Booth didn’t accept the offer. “He wanted to press the issue,” Duerksen says.
Booth disputes the offer was even made.“Nobody made an offer like that, because if they did, I would have taken it,” he says.
Duerksen sees many of the complications of this case as relating to a classic “he said/she said” debate. “The prosecutors I talked to said he was aggressive,” Duerksen says. “These things can escalate and sometimes emotions get involved, and that’s unfortunate.” Still, the case was passed on to the district attorneys office, who decided to move forward with the bribery charges as well as speeding charges, this time amended to 50 in a 35 mph zone.
While a pizza-bribery charge might seem ridiculous, Duerksen says Sandy prosecutors would not have passed the case on to the district attorneys office if there was not merit to the claim. Likewise, the district attorney could have sent it back if it was felt the evidence was lacking.
The district attorney´s spokeswoman Alicia Cook agrees that if the evidence is there, the case will get charged. “The statute on bribery is pretty broad,” Cook says, adding that any offer valued at under $1,000 meant to influence an individual constitutes third-degree felony bribery—even a $12 pizza.
“The decision is based on the investigation conducted by the police,” Cook says. “We don’t create the law. We look at the facts and see what law applies.”
But the evidence is exactly the thing that enrages Booth the most. While Booth insists he made the offer as a joke the police report says that Booth offered to “trade” the ticket for “a large pepperoni pizza.” Booth, however, is confident he never said “trade,” and he was counting on dashboard recordings from the officer´s car to prove him right.
The only problem is that on Oct. 15, a public defender showed Booth the evidence submitted by Sandy police, which did not include the first part of the recodings because of a “server error.” Thus, the camera failed to record the disputed account of the bribe offering.
Booth’s next district court hearing is scheduled for the end of October. Now that he’s heard about the missing portion of the tape, he’s going to fight the case.
“I think the only acceptable outcome is a dismissal of all charges,” he says. “I won’t cop a plea for the 50 in a 35. [They] owe me so my faith in the justice system can be restored.”