The city of Provo held a press conference Thursday morning in the Salt Lake City law offices of Snow Christensen & Martineau addressing claims against the city regarding former Police Chief John King.
Lawyers for Provo filed a motion Thursday to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim for negligent employment, supervision and retention, their claims for declaratory and injunctive relief, and their claims for punitive damages.
The press conference brought a response from the plaintiffs. King, speaking through an attorney, also made his first public comment on the matter since his resignation.
“The allegations the plaintiffs make against the city are inconsistent with what actually occurred,” said Heather S. White, the attorney representing Provo.
White said the city took purposeful action after each report of misconduct. The first made by a woman dealt with how she felt uncomfortable being in the same room as King, and allegations that he looked at her chest.
She reported this information upon her resignation, but “specifically instructed her supervisor not to report her claims to anyone,” White said, and said nothing further of the misconduct.
Regardless, the city said it launched an investigation. Without disclosing any names, then-Mayor John Curtis reviewed the complaint with King and instructed him to discontinue any behavior that could be perceived as inappropriate. He then reached out to the woman and told her of this disciplinary action.
The second report of misconduct was received September 2015 through an annual survey of city employees. An anonymous employee said King “has boundary issues with touching female employees who do not want to be touched.” The city investigated further through an anonymous survey to dispatchers. Out of the 17 dispatchers who responded, one complained of being uncomfortable when King patted her shoulders or rubbed her arms.
After this, Curtis “responded by requiring Mr. King to receive supplemental training on sexual harassment and reaffirming that physical contact with employees was prohibited,” White said.
White said she felt the disciplinary action taken after these two incidences was enough at the time, considering a chief is supposed to be the standard of behavior. Both sides had to be looked at, and regardless of King’s denials of those complaints, the city “took like measures to respond to those.”
Finally, when allegations came against King alleging serious sexual misconduct with a third woman, White pointed out that Curtis asked King to resign. This action was taken despite Salt Lake County attorneys declining to file criminal charges against King, because they could not “make a case this was done without consent.”
“Mr. King was asked to resign regardless of the fact that the criminal charges were not brought … because the mayor felt he could not have confidence in this leader any longer,” White said.
White said the city is filing the motion to dismiss because the issue is not what the city could’ve done at the time of these complaints, and what it could’ve done regarding King’s hiring, but that what action was taken was reasonable. White and the city contend it was.
Curtis, now a congressman, released a statement via email after the press conference, saying, “I respect our legal process which gives victims and the accused their opportunities to provide all the details of the circumstances they experienced.
“As Mayor, I worked hard to support a system that gave those who felt vulnerable a safe place to come forward and be heard.
“I recognize that we can gain understanding from this and similar situations. Those coming forward need a safe environment in which to talk about what they have experienced. Leadership and personal responsibility are required to create a safe work environment.”
According to White, the city was not reckless in hiring King, doing so through outside professionals familiar with this type of recruiting. At the time, those professionals reviewed King’s experience and qualifications, performed employment and criminal background checks, administered a polygraph exam, conducted a psychological evaluation and interviewed King and his references.
They also did a media search on him. At that time, the media search failed to find previous reports of King’s conduct, or the 2012 Baltimore Sun article detailing his abrupt resignation there after an alleged conflict with an employee.
“Media searches at that time revealed nothing,” White said. “Everything the city had shows that he presented extremely well. There was no information that should have alerted the city there was any type of problem.”
According to what was available at the time, King came highly recommended.
“The information the city received about Mr. King from these professionals was positive. They provided no information that Mr. King had been forced to resign from two prior positions for misconduct,” White said.
After not hearing from King since his resignation in March 2017, he spoke out through an attorney on Thursday following statements by Provo and the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Ray Quinney & Nebeker only recently become aware of the pending civil litigation and said they have not yet been formally retained by King, as the retention procedure is still pending.
However according to Loren Weiss with the firm, King wished to express that “he unequivocally denies all allegations of wrong-doing or misconduct in the Complaint filed against him and the City of Provo.”
“He is confident in the Court Process and in the Rule of Law; and he is certain he will successfully defend himself,” Weiss wrote in an email.
“It is not our intention to engage in a process where Chief King is being tried in the media,” Weiss’ statement said. “Unfortunately, it is inappropriate for counsel to abuse the court process with publicity. Chief King will defend himself where it matters — in the courtroom.”
Since his departure, King continues to take care of his ailing mother, and no longer resides in Utah but in Maryland with his wife.
In an emailed statement after the motion filed by Provo on Thursday, the plaintiffs’ attorneys at Parsons Behle & Latimer said:
“We are disappointed that the City of Provo has chosen to extend litigation in this matter instead of taking responsibility and accountability for the actions of their Chief of Police, whom they should not have hired or retained as long as they did. The Plaintiffs obviously strongly disagree with the City of Provo’s versions of events expressed today. We disagree with the City’s statement that it did not have a culture of harassment or discrimination and disagree that it followed its policy on harassment with regard to these Plaintiffs. Mayor Kaufusi could resolve this and allow everyone to move forward. Instead, the City of Provo is again failing these women. We do believe it’s time for Provo to do right by the women they hurt.”