Provo Police Chief John King speaks at a press conference at the Provo Municipal Council Chamber on May 19, 2015.
Chief King called on state policymakers to extend health insurance coverage, particularly in areas of mental health, in order to reduce crime. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald
A former employee of the Provo Police Department and a young woman who served on a police advisory board filed various claims against former Provo Police Chief John King including sexual harassment, rape, battery and assault. In the case of Provo city, both women also allege negligent hiring, supervision and/or retention.
In documents filed on Jan. 18 with the Provo city recorder’s office, both individuals’ allegations arise out of the sexual misconduct of King during his employment with the city. The claimants’ identities have not been released to protect their identities as victims of sexual misconduct.
According to Camille S. Williams, assistant city attorney, the city is currently investigating if the claims are valid. The Notice of Claim, received by Provo, is in compliance with the Governmental Immunity Act of Utah which puts government entities such as Provo city on notice of potential future pending actions.
According to Michael W. Young with the law firm of Parsons Behle and Latimer, attorneys for the claimants, his clients are looking at filing a lawsuit.
While it is not normal for the city to comment on and investigation, according to city spokesman Isaac Paxman, the city is prepared to deal (financially) with potential claims, including through insurance.
Since the departure of King, Paxman told the Daily Herald the Police Department has worked to help employees feel safe.
“The welfare and safety or Provo city employees is a top priority,” Paxman said in an email. “For a long time, including well before Chief King was hired, Provo has conducted regular training on sexual harassment and taught its employees about their various avenues to lodge a complaint. Every employee has multiple people they can go to, including the mayor or the head of the legal department, to report an issue. It’s been that way for years. That way, even if the employee is reluctant to go to their supervisor or department head, they have people they can reach out to.”
Paxman elaborated and stated, “The city’s policies against sexual harassment have been re-emphasized after Chief King’s departure. The city takes allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct seriously and investigates the complaints that are brought forward. Our goal is that every employee here will feel safe and secure and know that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.”
According to the notice provided to Provo, Claimant 1 worked as a dispatcher for five years. During her time as a dispatcher, she claims she suffered repeated instances of sexual harassment and misconduct by King.
In the filed document, she claims King said he had dreamt about her, made comments about her breasts in the presence of other employees, demeaned and humiliated her inside and outside the workplace. They allege he also engaged in unwanted physical touching of Claimant 1.
Claimant 1 put the city on notice of King’s inappropriate conduct through a formal complaint as she was leaving her employment with the department. She believes Provo took no corrective action to ensure King’s “inappropriate, sexually charged behavior, perpetrated by a man in a position of power within Provo city, ceased within the Department or in the community.”
Claimant 1 says that King violated her right to equal protection, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, noting particularly that King discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, depriving her of her equal protection of the laws and did so willfully.
She claims the city is liable because King was the final arbiter of complaints of misconduct within the department; King was a final policymaker with respect to his sexual harassment of Claimant 1 and believes the city is liable for the actions King took.
The claim also suggests Provo is liable for failing to train, supervise, correct or discipline King in the area of sexual harassment, and was deliberately indifferent to the constitutional rights of persons King would come into contact with.
Claimant 1, according to the documents, “has suffered severe or extreme emotional distress as a result of and caused by King’s misconduct.”
She claims that Provo owed a duty to her to protect her from harm at the hands of its employees, including King, and that the city breached that duty by failing to properly investigate King’s background before his hiring, failing to properly supervise King, and/or retaining King as police chief after complaints of sexual and other misconduct.
She claims she is entitled to general damages including pain and suffering, lost wages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and punitive damages.
The documents also suggests that Claimant 1 was not alone in being on the receiving end of King’s blatant misconduct.
“Other employees of the Provo City Police Department witnessed Chief King’s abusive conduct and were at times subject to that conduct. One such employee began working at the Department in 2006 or 2007,” the document says. “During his tenure, he witnessed inappropriate behavior by Chief King toward female employees. These incidents included Chief King’s leering at female dispatchers and attempting to cultivate off-duty relationships with subordinates. These female employees urged him to not report Chief King’s misconduct, however, out of fear of retribution.”
The document claims this other employee was at one point assaulted by a female co-worker who grabbed his genitals. He complained of this incident to the human resources department. King was tasked with the final personnel decision related to this incident, and he chose to retain and not discipline the female co-worker, with whom King was supposedly having an off-duty relationship with.
Claimant 1 cites a second example of a longtime employee witnessing inappropriate behavior by King toward female members of the department.
“In one of her first meetings with Chief King, he conspicuously leered at her breasts during the entire 20-minute encounter in his office. On another occasion, Chief King groped her breast,” the claim states.
Claimant 2 is a young woman who, according to the claim, was raped by King in January 2017. She came into contact with King while she was attending Utah Valley University and was a member of the Provo Police Citizens’ Advisory Board, which was instituted by King.
“During the months of contact with Claimant 2, Chief King made sexually suggestive comments to Claimant 2, in response to which Claimant 2 attempted to set boundaries with Chief King,” according to the document. “Nonetheless, Chief King disregarded those boundaries and physically touched Claimant 2 without her consent, including kissing, fondling, and groping Claimant 2.”
In late January 2017, the document alleges that King engaged in nonconsensual sexual contact with Claimant 2. Despite Claimant 2’s protests to King that she did not want to engage in sexual relations, King persisted and raped Claimant 2, invading her bodily integrity.
Prior to these unwanted advances by King, she said Provo was aware of inappropriate sexual behavior by the police chief toward employees and toward women outside the department. The claim suggests Provo failed to “take any action to discipline King or prevent him from using his authority as police chief to continue his inappropriate and illegal sexual behavior.” As in the case of Claimant 1, Claimant 2 holds the city liable for her injuries and being damaged as a result of King’s misconduct as well as the city’s failure to protect her from harm at the hands of its employees.
Claimant 2 is also claiming false imprisonment by King.
The document states, “Chief King engaged in conduct with the intent to confine Claimant 2 within boundaries fixed by Chief King during his rape of Claimant 2. Chief King’s conduct resulted in a confinement of Claimant 2 while she was conscious of the confinement and harmed by it.”
Claimant 2 states that she is entitled to damages for medical expenses, general damages including pain and suffering, attorney’s fees and costs and punitive damages.
Circumstances surrounding King’s departure from Provo
Some of the aforementioned actions of King resulted in an investigation into a sexual assault allegation by the Unified Police Department in Salt Lake City last February.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges following the completion of the investigation into the sexual assault allegations.
Though charges were not brought against King, city officials felt the substantial nature of the claims were such that King should not retain his position at the department. Provo Mayor John Curtis released King of his duties in February 2017. In May, documents were obtained that said King told Unified Police Department investigators that he had sex multiple times with a woman who volunteered to work with him and the department.
But according to the woman’s interviews with the department, the sexual relations were never consensual, and for months King made her uncomfortable and “afraid on many levels,” according to the released documents from the Unified Police Department.
In February 2017 after the woman came forward to speak with Unified Police investigators, the case was then taken to the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office. Blake Nakamura, chief deputy district attorney, declined to file charges.
“We didn’t have the evidence necessary to meet all the elements of sexual assault charges we were trying to fit,” Nakamura said in an interview held following the investigation. “One of those elements is consent and we don’t feel like we met that.”
In the claims filed Jan. 18, there is a belief that additional individuals will come forward.
“Other employees and non-employees of the Provo City Police Department were similarly subject to Chief King’s sexually aggressive and hostile words and conduct,” the claim reads. “We expect these individuals to come forward as the entire scope of Chief King’s wrongdoing comes to light.”
Former investigations into King
According to documents obtained from the Baltimore County Police Department, King was investigated in 2012, a year before he was hired to work in Provo, on another allegation of sexual assault. King was investigated by the county to avoid a conflict of interest as he was employed by the city.
King, who was head of the Baltimore Police Department’s education and training program at the time, reportedly groped a female co-worker on June 22, 2012, while driving back from lunch, according to the Baltimore County police investigation report.
The woman spoke to her superiors about the incident. When King was confronted about the reported offense, he denied ever touching her. King told investigators he believed the woman filed the report against him because he confronted her about fudging her time card hours and creating “fraudulent Leave/Time Sheet markings on the payroll sheets.”
Just days later, on June 27, 2012, King “abruptly resigned” from his post after only six months on the job. King was escorted from the office, though he denied in a Baltimore Sun article that he received any complaints at the time.
Baltimore County prosecutors pursued the case until February 2013 when they decided to not charge King with any crimes. The Baltimore Police Department paid the woman $24,000 in October 2013 after reaching a settlement between her, King, the city of Baltimore and the department. King was released of any liability related to the incident under the settlement.
King started at the Provo Police Department just months later in January 2014.
Citygate Associates is a California-based recruiting service used by the city at the time of King’s hire to vet candidates for the position.