SALT LAKE CITY, UT – For police officers in Salt Lake City and in Davis County, this question could soon appear on the standard paperwork they have to complete:
“Has any judge or prosecutor made any allegations or findings that reflect on your truthfulness or bias? Yes or No.”
The Davis County attorney’s office last week started issuing questionnaires to police officers that ask whether they have been caught lying or done something else that could jeopardize court cases in which they might be called to testify.
“The credibility of prosecutors’ offices matter,” Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings explained. “There is a growing sentiment of concern with prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecution entities must police themselves and document compliance with” U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Rawlings got the idea for the questionnaires from Salt Lake City prosecutor Padma Veeru-Collings. Her office started issuing them in December.
However, Veeru-Collings, through a spokesman, said last week she has ceased issuing the questionnaires until she has a chance to discuss the practice with police officers’ representatives and their departments.
Salt Lake City government spokesman Art Raymond says Veeru-Collings plans to resume issuing some kind of questionnaire to police eventually. Veeru-Collings and the attorneys she supervises prosecute misdemeanor cases, mostly in the city’s justice court.
“There is forward momentum working toward making this form part of the regular process,” Raymond said, “but it just is not going to be implemented until that discussion is had with law enforcement agencies.”
The Salt Lake City questionnaire asks about past and pending complaints, investigations, or disciplinary actions concerning truthfulness or conduct involving deception in the performance of an officer’s official duties.
It also asks if a judge or prosecutor has made allegations or findings reflecting on an officer’s truthfulness or bias, and if an officer has ever been arrested, charged with, or convicted of a crime.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been issuing such questionnaires to law enforcement for years, and Salt Lake City’s form asks the same questions. In some cases, it appears, Salt Lake City’s prosecutors actually attached the Department of Justice questionnaire to subpoenas it issued to police officers.
Raymond and Veeru-Collings acknowledged that the questionnaires were being issued, in part, because of recent problems found in the West Valley City Police Department, which resulted in state and federal prosecutors tossing more than 120 cases linked to members of the now-disbanded narcotics unit who were not accounting for loose change or CDs from seized vehicles, and judges’ findings that former Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Lisa Steed was not believable on the witness stand.
Doug McCleve, a spokesman for the UHP, said they will comply with any questionnaires prosecutors require.
“They’re just trying to make sure that law enforcement witnesses are prepared and ready to testify,” McCleve said.
However, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank had told his officers not to answer the questionnaires. Instead, Burbank said he asked Veeru-Collings to go through other police department staff tasked with tracking discipline records.
In an interview, Burbank said he already fires any officer found to have lied. Also, Burbank said, some officers can find themselves testifying in court five times a week and it’s more efficient to have staff “pre-certify” that an officer has no history of dishonesty then notify prosecutors if that changes.
“To have [an officer] fill out the form five times is redundant,” Burbank said.
Michael Tuttle, president of the Salt Lake City Police Association, questioned whether a dishonest police officer would answer the form correctly, anyway.
“Let’s pretend like I’m a liar,” Tuttle said, “If I go to the prosecutor’s office and they tell me to fill out a form, I’m going to make it look as good as I can for me.”
Rawlings said he takes the point that some departments track discipline issues and notify prosecutors, but he said U.S. Supreme Court opinions make clear that prosecutors have an obligation to seek information that could benefit the defendant.
“If a prosecutor doesn’t, it could be his or her [law] license on the line, or losing when contesting a defense motion to dismiss,” Rawlings said.
Questions on the Salt Lake City questionnaire :
» Are you aware of any sustained findings in past complaints, investigations, or disciplinary actions concerning truthfulness or conduct involving deception in the performance of your official duties? Yes or No.
» Are there any pending complaints, investigations, or disciplinary actions concerning truthfulness or conduct involving deception in the performance of your official duties? Yes or No.
» Are you aware of any misconduct allegations against you that have received publicity? Yes or No.
» Has any judge or prosecutor made any allegations or findings that reflect on your truthfulness or bias? Yes or No.
» Have you ever been arrested, charged with, or convicted of a criminal offense? Yes or No