OGDEN — The push for a copy of the Ogden Police Department investigation into Kerry Gibson, the former Weber County commissioner, has turned into a court battle.
The Standard-Examiner, KSL and freelance journalist Cathy McKitrick all filed public records requests last year with the city of Ogden for a copy of the investigation. The probe, sought by Weber County officials in late 2017, focused on allegations that Gibson misused county equipment, personnel and funds. It was completed last year and led to no charges after review by the Davis County Attorney’s Office.
Gibson has denied any wrongdoing and charges that political foes are behind it. Officials involved, meanwhile, have released minimal information about the matter, precipitating the three public records requests. McKitrick’s advanced first, and on Sept. 6 last year, the Ogden Records Review Board partially granted her request, ordering release of the investigation with certain names and other information blacked out.
In response, Gibson — who stepped down as commissioner last June to take a deputy director post at the Utah Department of Natural Resources — filed suit last October in 2nd District Court in Ogden against the city, seeking reversal of the decision. He argues that the records sought are private, per Utah’s public records law, and that their release would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
McKitrick, a former Standard-Examiner reporter who now occasionally provides freelance work for the newspaper, filed court papers in early January seeking permission to become an intervenor in the case, allowing her to take part in the legal proceedings. Judge Noel Hyde, who is overseeing the matter, approved McKitrick’s request on Thursday.
Beyond that, though, the court case could take several more months to resolve. A timeline in the court filings sets a deadline of Nov. 30 to complete discovery, the process of getting relevant information, and prepare for a trial.
News of the Ogden Police Department investigation came to public light in late 2017. The department finished its probe in February 2018 and the Davis County Attorney’s Office, asked to get involved by the Weber County Attorney’s Office, completed its subsequent review of the investigation last May.
At the time, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings and Deputy Davis County Attorney Rick Westmoreland released a letter stating there was “insufficient evidence” to prove Gibson of wrongdoing.
At the center of the matter, according to many familiar with the case, was a flood-mitigation project along the Weber River near property owned by the Gibson family in western Weber County. The aim of the multimillion-dollar project, completed in 2015, was to shore up the river and minimize the potential for future flooding.
In their letter, Rawlings and Westmoreland referenced the project, saying Gibson had no role in any element of the initiative related to family-owned land. Federal authorities, they also said, approved all elements of the project related to Gibson’s property.
In arguing to be an intervenor and for release of the Ogden police investigation, McKitrick cited Gibson’s role, while commissioner, as a public official.
The public “has a right and need to know the contents of the completed probe into a key elected county official, one of three who hold significant sway on major decisions in Weber County,” she wrote in court papers. “While Gibson has moved on to a state position, he could seek higher office some time in the future, and the investigation also could have indicated systemic problems in county procedures and policies.”
In the October suit to halt release of the investigation, Peter Stirba, Gibson’s lawyer, called the allegations against the former commissioner “false and unsubstantiated” and noted the Davis County Attorney’s Office decision not to pursue charges.
“Being a county official does not strip an individual of their right to privacy, and the public has no material interest in accessing records of an investigation spurred by false allegations which did not lead to any charges or discipline because of a lack of credible evidence,” Stirba wrote.
Though the Ogden Records Review Board sided with McKitrick in calling for release of the investigation, with identifying details of witnesses and other information redacted, Chief Deputy City Attorney Mara Brown and Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson in earlier decisions had denied release of the information. In its answer to Gibson’s suit, the city — responding separately from the Records Review Board — reiterated its reasoning for not releasing the probe, echoing some of Stirba’s rationale.
The city “maintains that there is a substantial privacy interest weighing against release of records related to criminal investigations where charges are ultimately determined to be unfounded,” wrote the city’s legal representative, Stephen Noel.
The Standard-Examiner and KSL requests for the investigation are on hold pending resolution of McKitrick’s request, according to Tracy Hansen, the Ogden city recorder.