Kerry Gibson PD report released, offers more details into controversial probe
OGDEN — It took three-plus years of wrangling in the courts.
But the 2017 Ogden Police Department report into Kerry Gibson, the former Weber County commissioner, has been released. Tuesday’s move by the City of Ogden comes in the wake of a Utah Supreme Court ruling in August that Gibson had no standing to challenge its release, the focus of a court battle dating to May 2018.
The 50-page document, redacted in parts to black out the names and identifying details of witnesses who spoke to police, contains the direct testimony of Weber County workers involved in the 2013-2014 Weber River restoration project that’s at the center of many of the allegations Gibson faced. Notably, though, just a handful of the 32 witnesses interviewed suggested there were potential misdeeds related to the work and at times their testimony was less than definitive, bolstering Gibson’s contention all along of no wrongdoing.
“Four individuals from this group said they did work in the river area they ‘felt’ or they ‘believe’ was outside the scope of the project,” wrote Detective Rick Childress. The Standard-Examiner and freelance journalist Cathy McKitrick had sought release of the report via a public records request, but it was McKitrick’s efforts in the courts that led to the Aug. 9 court decision that shook the document loose.
Many more witnesses reported seeing no signs of misuse of company equipment during the work or undue attention to property belonging to a dairy farm operated by Gibson’s family, which sits along the section of the Weber River that faced restoration work. Charges of misappropriation of Weber County equipment and personnel to benefit the Gibson property were at the center of the accusations faced by Gibson, who was never formally charged in the matter.
“The supporting evidence I have found does not lend credence to the allegations that have been against Kerry Gibson rather, it contradicts the foundation on which the allegations are formed,” Childress wrote in his conclusion. “It is my recommendation this case be closed as unsubstantiated.”
News emerged that Gibson was a focus of the police probe in late 2017. Davis County prosecutors, asked to ultimately review the matter, decided not to pursue charges in 2018 after looking into the matter. But the issue simmered on as the fight over release of the Ogden Police Department probe wound its way up to the Utah Supreme Court, pushed by McKitrick, formerly a reporter with the Standard-Examiner, and contested by Gibson.
The newly released police report also delves more deeply into allegations that Gibson directed a Weber County employee during his tenure as commissioner to carry out “campaign related activities” and seek contributions during work hours. Gibson stepped down as county commissioner in mid-2018 after the Davis County Attorney’s Office announced it would not be filing charges in the case.
The county employee, whose name is redacted, said they were directed by Gibson to raise money for a political action committee, according to the report. The report later alludes to the Northern Utah Leadership PAC, the apparent focus of the fundraising effort.
Childress, in his findings, recommended “prosecutorial review” of the fundraising question. The Davis County Attorney’s Office, though, found insufficient grounds to file charges after it looked into the matter, as with the Weber River restoration issue. But while Davis County officials offered at least a short explanation for the decision not to pursue charges in connection with the river issue, they said little about the fundraising flap, just that there was “insufficient evidence” to prove any charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Davis County determination became public on May 17, 2018, and McKitrick launched her records request for the Ogden police probe the next day.
Gibson, responding Tuesday to a Standard-Examiner query on the matter, said the employee never raised any issues with him about the initiative and he never pressured or directed the employee to solicit contributions. “No, not all,” he said.
He said the aim of the Northern Utah Leadership PAC was to unify the economic development efforts of Weber County and Ogden, not to benefit his own campaign prospects. He’s listed in the statement of organization of the group on the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office website as its primary officer.
“It was part of our economic development strategy,” Gibson said. The employee’s charges, he said, “baffled” him.
Whatever the case, the employee seems to express real anguish in the Ogden police report and indicated that they did push back on Gibson’s apparent prodding to seek out donors. A second Weber County employee interviewed on the question, name redacted, said they had spoken with the other employee on the matter and they viewed the fundraising as illegal.
“I think it puts businesses and individuals in a compromising position,” the second employee said. “I think that it creates a level of expectation of some type of quid pro quo.”
More generally, Gibson said in a statement on Tuesday that the turn of events — the elevation of the concerns related to the river project and the fundraising matter to a police probe — was part of a broader campaign to tarnish his image. That’s been his charge all along and, as before, he didn’t publicly name anyone who may have been involved in the campaign.
“Multiple agencies reviewed the credibility of these allegations and found them untrue. I have always maintained that this smear campaign was completely false. They were designed to damage me politically, but have only exposed the lack of credibility of those who dishonestly orchestrated this coordinated attack,” Gibson said.
He called the attack he says he faced “disenfranchising” and warned it could have ripple effects. “The message, if you want to run for public office and serve your community, beware. A political foe or disgruntled employee can make an accusation, and even if it’s false, they will still attack your family and drag your name through the mud,” he said.
The Standard-Examiner, like McKitrick, had sought a copy of the police probe via a public records request, though McKitrick’s efforts in the court system ultimately resulted in the ruling leading to its release. Gibson, meantime, had battled back in court, saying to release the report would be an invasion of his privacy.
The Utah Supreme Court ultimately decided on Aug. 9 that Gibson had no standing, as outlined in state legislation, to challenge disclosure of the report. That led to its release in redacted form by the City of Ogden on Tuesday.
In probing the issues surrounding the Weber River project, completed in 2013-2014, Ogden police interviewed 32 people, most of them county workers. The general allegations, as outlined to the Standard-Examiner before Tuesday by some of the people familiar with the situation, were that Gibson had somehow directed employees to do work on his farm, outside the scope of the river project.
Some of that came through in the police report. The river work, overseen by federal officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, came in the wake of a devastating 2011 flood and aimed to improve water flow to prevent a recurrence.
“In reference to the allegations,” the report reads, “[deleted] said [deleted] was instructed to cut down trees that [deleted] ‘felt’ were in question on the Gibson farm.”
Another employee made similar comments.
“[Deleted] said there was one instance where [deleted] felt work was done on Gibson property that didn’t need to be done,” the report reads elsewhere.
More people said they had seen no improper activity. Others rejected outright the possibility of misdeeds or deliberate favors to benefit the Gibson farm.
“You get seen by everybody, it would be obvious (if you were doing favors),” said another Weber County worker who was interviewed. “And the farmer who saw it would want the same favors. You can’t do that, it’s not professional and we tried to be 100% professional. … Everybody can see everything you are doing, you’re always being watched.”
Another Weber County employee said the attention Gibson’s property received was on par with the attention given to other parcels along the Weber River.
“There was nothing they did at all that would have enhanced any acreage for Gibson. They were treated no different than anyone else on the river, other than their rip rap projects were held off until the very last. I guess they were treated different — they were prioritized last,” the employee said. “Kerry was aboveboard, didn’t influence anything, saying, I can’t be involved in decisions because of conflict.”