Bad Day at Red Rock | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Bad Day at Red Rock 

Moab's former city manager alleges she was fired for being a whistleblower on troubled police dept.

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STEPHEN DARK.
  • Stephen Dark.

In early December 2016, Moab City announced its plan to close for an unprecedented 10 days over the holidays. The year had been diabolical for the municipality—which sees millions flood through its streets and businesses each year en route to nearby national parks, rafting and a host of other tourist delights—and they just wanted to shut the door on it for good. In the local press and social media, there had been ongoing controversies over employee departures and city manager Rebecca Davidson's administration, while behind the scenes, multiple investigations into the police department over the prior 18 months had led to five officers—a third of the force—being put on paid administrative leave; three of them subsequently resigning. Davidson herself was put on administrative leave on Sept. 13 and terminated Sept. 30 "without cause," and longtime police chief Mike Navarre abruptly resigned, on Sept. 20, clearing out his office overnight.

Davidson, however, was not leaving without a fight. On Dec. 13, 2016, she sent a letter to Moab Mayor David Sakrison, notifying him and the city of her intent to sue for close to $2 million for firing her because, she alleged, she had "raised her concerns to the mayor and FBI about wrongful conduct by members of the city's police department," her attorney, Gregory W. Stevens, wrote. Conduct she had complained about included "lying while testifying in court, threats against members of the public, drinking alcohol with minors, harassment of witnesses, domestic violence and issues concerning evidence."

Moab's interim city manager, David Everitt—former chief of staff under Salt Lake City's former Mayor Ralph Becker—declined to answer emailed questions about why Davidson had been terminated. "The city is likely subject to litigation by Ms. Davidson and we should not comment on that matter," he wrote.

Davidson has not publicly discussed her departure from the city or the issues that led to her concerns about the police department before. In several interviews, she detailed her struggles to support, motivate and modernize the 15-strong police department. In August and September 2016, things took a darker turn when she learned from Grand County prosecutor Andrew Fitzgerald and some angry community members of misconduct by officers. As she dug deeper, she says she also learned of apparently undocumented donated funds and questions relating to confiscated monies held in the evidence locker.

Davidson had managed several other cities, also with some controversy, before starting as Moab City's manager in April 2015. In initial interviews with police employees, she learned of low morale and concerns about lack of defense-tactic training. So she doubled the training budget. Changing hiring practices proved more challenging. "If the police chief wanted to hire, he would do it, and Donna [Metzler, the former city manager,] would sign off on it," Davidson says. She pushed for a centralized HR department, in part because she was concerned about the caliber of police officers the city was hiring. "This is a police department in crisis, that's the concern," she says. "You can't play with police departments. You need to take it really serious, how they get hired, how they get trained, and make sure we're watching."

She instituted a psychological evaluation and polygraph for potential new hires at the PD, "for the protection of the community and the protection of that particular officer." This became an issue, she says, when Chief Navarre favored a local candidate with no police experience over an out-of-state candidate who had served as a policeman. Attempts to contact Navarre were unsuccessful.

Part of the problem, Davidson felt, was that Navarre "was hardly ever in his office, as little as a few days per week, and he did not seem to be supervising his officers very well."

In response to emailed questions, Everitt wrote, "As a salaried employee, Chief Navarre worked independently, and he periodically worked from home or remotely. He was nearing retirement, and he transitioned his responsibilities to remaining employees in the Police Department."

When she began to dig deeper into the police department, alarmed by complaints of officer misconduct, her formerly ardent supporters, such as Moab's Mayor Sakrison "did a 180," she says, and either became increasingly critical or gave her the cold shoulder.

At the time she was let go, Davidson had identified several new issues of concern at the police department. One was donations. Davidson says she and Navarre clashed over the latter's plans to send two officers and himself to Nevada to attend the annual Utah Narcotic Officers Association's conference, using donations from 35 companies for police training. Since she had doubled their training budget, this rankled, only to grow into a larger concern when she couldn't find the donations on the city's books.

Everitt says the city looked at the donations question and found that, "Utah Narcotics Association solicits in-kind donations statewide for their conference, and apparently they raffle off those items to raise funds for their association. These were not donations to the city, so it would not have been documented in the city's accounting system."

Davidson also had concerns with the evidence room in late August 2016, when she learned that, earlier in the summer, a bank account had been opened for money confiscated during arrests. "What concerned me was that somebody told me there were times that the evidence room didn't balance up with the money in there." It struck her as odd that there were no long-standing accounts for such money to be held in.

Everitt confirmed that non-sworn police employee Cindy Montague had suggested "the city set up a bank account to hold all cash evidence that wasn't also potentially trace evidence (meaning that the cash might have fingerprints on it, etc.)."

That suggestion followed her attending a March 2015 conference on evidence training that recommended such accounts as "best practices." However, her attempts to meet with Davidson were unsuccessful, "resulting in the account finally being authorized in 2016," Everitt wrote.

Prior to opening the account, "traditional practice for MPD was to keep cash in a separate safe in the evidence vault," Everitt wrote. "It was subject to standard evidence chain of custody protocols and tracked accordingly. MPD used police data management programs Spillman, then Millenium, and now Fatpot over the years to track and maintain records associated with evidence."

Davidson was also puzzled about why Montague had worked in the evidence locker alone on weekends and evenings. Everitt wrote that her inventorying and updating the evidence locker at such hours was not unusual and was approved of by her supervisors. Such hours were in part to accommodate the work schedule of an officer who was helping her.

Davidson says she asked for an audit of the evidence vault at 4 p.m. on Sept. 12—the next day she was put on leave.

On Sept. 30, the council voted to terminate Davidson, council member Heila Ershadi being the lone voice of dissent. "The public does not have all the facts, and frankly, neither does the Moab City Council," she was quoted as saying in Moab's Times-Independent.

For more than a decade, Moab PD was an active player in a multi-agency drug task force. In response to a City Weekly record request seeking a list of all Moab PD drug task force cases, a breakdown of monies confiscated by the task force and a copy of any audit by the city of its evidence room, Moab City provided "the documents that the city has access to," Everitt wrote, which amounted to 31 pages—20 of them receipts for money to buy drugs or for informants.

The 20 receipts were for sporadically logged expenses relating to drug-buys with Moab PD money between 1983 and 1997. There were none since then, despite the city having a high prevalence of local drug use—much of it weed. Asked why there was no documentation post-1997, Everitt wrote, "Unclear at this time."


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