Former city manager claims she was fired for raising concerns about police conduct
by Molly Marcello
The Times-Independent
Jan 12, 2017 | 3932 views | 0 0 comments | 84 84 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson is threatening to sue Moab city and Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison for wrongful termination, saying the city retaliated against her for raising concerns about misconduct within the Moab Police Department.

A Dec. 13 “notice of claim” sent to the city by Davidson’s attorney, Gregory Stevens, cites federal “whistleblower” law and seeks a settlement of $1.9 million in damages to keep the matter out of federal court. Local officials said Moab city considers the claim a “precursor” to a lawsuit, adding that the city is preparing for future litigation.

“The city has notified its insurance carrier and is in all likelihood going to be preparing to defend a lawsuit,” Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany told The Times-Independent.

In the claim, Stevens states that Davidson raised concerns with both the mayor and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding the police department throughout August and September 2016.

“Ms. Davidson is informed and believes that the reason proffered for her termination, her management style, is a pretext for the true reason for her termination,” the claim states. “In particular, Ms. Davidson is informed and believes that her communication of her concerns about members of the Moab City Police Department was, at a minimum, a motivating factor in the decision to place her on administrative leave and then terminate her.”

Davidson and her roommate, Tara Smelt, and Smelt’s company, Tayo, Inc., are currently seeking damages against five people, including three local citizens, through a defamation lawsuit filed in 7th District Court. In November 7th District Court Judge Lyle R. Anderson dismissed claims against two defendants involved in that lawsuit — Annie Tueller Payne and Janet Buckingham. On Dec. 27, Stevens filed a petition with the Utah Supreme Court appealing Anderson’s ruling.

Stevens told The Times-Independent the city gave him a “proffered reason for [Davidson] being placed on leave” — her management style — when he filed a response to a motion from Payne and Buckingham in the defamation lawsuit. However, he added, “there was nothing in writing.”

Interim City Manager David Everitt declined to respond to that specific claim made by Stevens, given that Moab City is “likely to be in litigation on that very point.”

Davidson was placed on administrative leave Sept. 13, at the discretion of Sakrison. At the time, Stenta told The Times-Independent that the decision was “influenced” by issues raised by members of the Moab City Council.

“There were internal issues in the organization that the council determined needed to be evaluated,” Stenta said in September. “The council felt the process would be streamlined if the city manager were on leave. That was the reason behind the mayor’s decision.”

At the time, Davidson said she was given no explanation.

The city council terminated Davidson’s contract Sept. 30 “without cause.” Davidson received nine months pay, approximately $82,000, under a provision of the contract.

Stevens said Davidson believed at the time that she was placed on administrative leave, and later terminated, in connection with her concerns about the Moab Police Department.

“ ... At the time she was placed on leave, she did believe that a motivation for her termination was her whistleblowing efforts,” Stevens said.

Damages listed in Davidson’s $1.9 million claim include “lost compensation and employment benefits and damage to her career”, “emotional pain, suffering, and trauma”, as well as attorney’s fees and punitive damages against Sakrison and the city.

Stevens told The Times-Independent that if this claim is unsettled, he will take the case to federal court.

According to the claim, Davidson raised concerns to both Sakrison and the FBI regarding “wrongful conduct” within the police department, including “police officers lying while testifying in court, threats against members of the public, drinking alcohol with minors, harassment of witnesses, domestic violence, and issues concerning violence.”

The FBI would not provide information about whether it received reports of those concerns from Davidson or any other citizen.

However, on Dec. 29 The Times-Independent reported that the FBI did confirm it had reviewed issues related to the Moab Police Department in 2016. Sandra Barker, public affairs specialist for the FBI Salt Lake City office, said the federal agency sent those findings to the state.

“The FBI conducted a review [of the Moab Police Department] and determined it did not rise to the level of federal prosecution and it was referred to the state,” Barker told The Times-Independent.

On Dec. 29, The Times-Independent reported that the Utah State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) is conducting an open and active investigation focused on Moab city, although agency officials have declined to specify the reason for the investigation because the case is still open.

Stevens also wrote in the notice of claim that Davidson was aware of “at least three” investigations into the conduct of the Moab Police Department from April 2016 to August 2016.

Records obtained by The Times-Independent confirm two internal affairs (IA) investigations were opened on April 11 and another was opened May 20.

Two other IA investigations were opened Sept. 23, 2016, during the time Davidson was on administrative leave.

A total of five IA investigations made 2016 a record year for the Moab City Police Department. In the past 10 years, just four other IA investigations have occurred — one in 2015, two in 2010 and one in 2007.

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