Paid hotel stays for police after shootings an uncommon practice

Friday , October 06, 2017 - 5:15 AM10 comments

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

FARMINGTON — Paid hotel stays for Davis County sheriff’s deputies after deadly force incidents have been criticized by auditors, but Sheriff Todd Richardson stands by the practice.

“There is not enough understanding of what it feels like to pull the trigger on someone,” Richardson said. “All they (auditors) know is the dollars.”

RELATED: Audits of Davis County Sheriff’s Office reveal time card fraud, $862 hotel stay

County Clerk-Auditor’s Office reports, obtained by the Standard-Examiner with a public records request, included findings that challenged Salt Lake City hotel bills of $128 and $179 for two deputies who fired on a suspect during a fatal shootout Jan. 8, 2015, in Syracuse.

No action was taken by the county commission over those unauthorized expenses. Then, after a two-night, $862 luxury hotel bill was paid by the sheriff for a deputy following a deadly shooting in Clearfield on Aug. 3, 2016, Clerk-Auditor Curtis Koch wrote to commissioners urging action.

“I continue to have concerns as to whether this practice is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars,” Koch wrote. “Naturally, we are concerned with the well-being of our officers and want to provide them the support necessary to work through the demands placed on them by their job. Having said that, I am concerned that the dollars spent in these instances are not an appropriate use of achieving this goal.”

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Such spending is the prerogative of the elected sheriff, Richardson said, and Koch acknowledged as much, even though he said the spending was questionable under overall county policy.

THE SHERIFF’S OWN OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTING

Richardson said he can relate to those three deputies’ experiences, because it happened to him once.

As a patrol deputy in 1997, Richardson and his partner, Jeff Payne, pulled over a drug suspect, who emerged from his vehicle and fired.

Payne — who’s been in the news lately as a Salt Lake City officer for handcuffing a nurse at the University of Utah Hospital — was hit in the badge. Richardson fired back at the shooter, wounding him. The suspect drove away and soon died after turning his gun on himself, Richardson said.

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The sheriff said officers need time away after a shooting.

“Some (agencies) just send them home,” he said, “but sometimes there are more issues because of it,” including immediate interaction with family members asking questions about what happened.

Richardson said he spent 30 hours in debriefings after the 1997 shooting and was relieved to leave.

“When you finally get out of there, you don’t want it to be your home,” he said. “You have a lot of feelings and emotions and your mind is going 10,000 miles an hour.” 

Supporting a night or two of relaxing seclusion “may ultimately be a lot cheaper,” he said. 

“I’m doing what I can for the deputies.”

He said the pricey stay for Deputy Brooklyn Welch at Deer Valley Resort’s Stein Eriksen Lodge was an aberration. He said a major outdoor retailers’ convention was underway in the Salt Lake area that night, and the Deer Valley room was the only place his senior deputies could find after many phone calls.

“We probably spent more money on senior officers’ time” trying to book a cheaper room, he said.

PAID HOTEL STAYS NOT COMMON FOR OTHER AGENCIES

Like most other Northern Utah law enforcement agencies, the Davis Sheriff’s Office puts deputies on paid administrative leave after shootings to allow time for investigators’ follow-up interviews and for investigations to be conducted over the subsequent days or weeks. But paid hotel stays appear to be rare among other police agencies.

“We have not ever sent anyone away or paid for a hotel or anything after a deadly force encounter,” said Lt. Nathan Hutchinson, spokesman for the Weber County Sheriff’s Office.

A volunteer deputy sheriffs’ association may step in to help a deputy in such a way, “but it’s completely separate and they pay for their own things,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not at all a part of the sheriff’s office.”

After a police shooting, the officer usually goes home, he said, although “in my career I have seen guys who needed to go for a weekend to get away from the news and inquiries.”

In Box Elder County, “a deputy would be placed on paid administrative leave, and any other considerations would have to be on a case by case basis,” said Chief Deputy Sheriff Dale Ward. “Thankfully we have very few of these.”

“We do not have a policy,” Ogden Police Dept. Capt. Danielle Croyle said by email. “We have rented a room locally to have officers stay during the initial phase” after a shooting. It “... depends on each circumstance.”

Former Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard said he had not heard of an agency putting up an officer in a hotel after a shooting.

“That’s something new to me, but I’ve not been a sheriff for 10 years,” said Kennard, who recently was named executive director of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association after spending a decade directing the National Sheriffs’ Association in Washington, D.C.

In Salt Lake, he said, an officer involved in a shooting “was given all the help needed,” Kennard said. “We’d put them on paid leave and make sure help was available 24-7, but we did not restrict their movements.

“My own personal feeling, being a cop for 40-plus years, the environment most conducive to recovery is family, friends and their natural environment,” Kennard said. 

But, he added, “I would not presume to judge or second guess a sheriff or a chief in how they handled it.” 


 When an officer uses deadly force

A research study found: “Most officers reported that just before and as they pulled the trigger on the suspect, they experienced a range of psychological, emotional, and physiological reactions that distorted time, distance, sight, and sound. Many officers found their recollection of the events of the shooting to be imperfect. In extreme cases, officers could not recall firing their guns. In the days, weeks, and months that follow a shooting, officers may suffer adverse reactions such as anxiety and depression.”

Researchers said officers also reported experiencing guilt, nightmares, trouble sleeping, fatigue, appetite loss, headache, nausea, recurrent thoughts, sadness, numbness, fear of legal or admininstrative problems, and fear for their safety.

Source: National Institute of Justice


 

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.

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