Davis County Jail building front

An expert witness testified in a Sept. 28, 2018, federal court document that Davis County Jail staff acted reasonably in the care of Heather Miller. The woman died of internal bleeding several hours after she fell from the top bunk in her cell, suffering a split spleen, on Dec. 21, 2016.

FARMINGTON — A former Davis County jail lieutenant who struck a clerk in an impromptu kickboxing lesson received a letter of caution from the state’s police certification council, a reduced penalty from the recommended two-year suspension.

Was it a punch, as described by the 5-foot-6-inch, 130-pound female clerk? Or a benign tap, as the 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound law officer related to the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council at a disciplinary hearing?

The POST board, which decides disciplinary penalties affecting officers’ state certification, sided with calling it a tap.

“It was certainly dumb and stupid and not very lieutenant-like,” Layton Police Chief Allen Swanson, a council member, said at the Jan. 3 POST meeting. “But I don’t think there was any intent of assault, and it wasn’t prosecuted.”

Swanson’s motion to issue Ken Hammon a letter of caution passed with two dissenting votes. The POST staff, basing its proposal on findings by an administrative law judge, had recommended Hammon’s certification be suspended for two years.

The decision on Hammon’s case came just weeks before a report from the State Auditor’s Office on Jan. 30 suggested that the discipline handed out to Utah police officers in misconduct cases is more lenient compared to punishments implemented in other states. The audit did not mention Hammon’s case.

Hammon testified to the “minor” encounter and said the strike was identical to a technique he has taught to hundreds of people in self-defense classes during a 27-year police career.

“I don’t make any excuses for a tap to the shoulders,” Hammon told the council. “The motion was no more than my hand falling on her shoulder.”

He said a Davis County Sheriff’s Office internal investigation determined the assault allegation was “unfounded.”

The Farmington Police Department conducted a separate investigation, but the county attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges.

“I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone,” Hammon said. “It was an informal training and I feel horrible that this young lady has any issues from this.”

But the POST council did not discuss a separate investigation by the Davis County human resources office.

An HR report obtained with a public records request in 2018 found that Hammon violated county policies prohibiting violence in the workplace and harassment as well as guidelines regulating discipline and standards of conduct.

A corrections division clerk filed a complaint against Hammon on Aug. 11, 2017, accusing him of harassment and violence.

The complaint stemmed from a July 1, 2017, incident in the jail’s medical bay. She said Hammon told her to hold still and he struck her on the right side of her chest so hard that it “knocked the air out of her and mucous out of her nose.”

The clerk told investigators she is an epileptic and has a nerve stimulation device implanted in her chest. She “got a migraine instantly” and a jail nurse gave her ibuprofen and an ice pack.

HR investigators concluded that Hammon “has demonstrated an ongoing pattern of conduct of striking employees inappropriately and calling it training.”

Human Resources Director Debra Alexander said Hammon was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.

“The majority of those allegations were substantiated,” Alexander said. “Pursuant to his due process requirements, the department was considering termination but Hammon resigned.”

Hammon told the POST council he chose to retire. He said he might not want to get back into law enforcement, but he was appealing for leniency from the council “because I don’t think I should have this hanging over my head when things are taken out of context.”

Hammon’s attorney, Rich Willie, told the council he has filed an appeal with the Utah Court of Appeals challenging the administrative law judge’s findings against Hammon.

“What happened was not an act of violence at all,” Willie said.

Hammon said the clerk had given him “implied consent” to be struck. He said she asked if the strike would knock her out and he said no.

But he acknowledged he did not specifically ask her for consent to be hit.

Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel, another council member, said, “I don’t think he met the requirements of assault. I’ve been a police officer for 26 years and I would never have charged him with assault.”

Another council member, Victoria McFarland, who opposed the reduced penalty, said the county attorney’s decision not to prosecute Hammon was based on a much higher standard — whether a jury would be likely to convict him — and should have no bearing on POST decisions.

POST attorney Lynda Viti pointed out the clerk had no self-defense job requirements and Hammon’s actions “were not official training of any sort.”

The blow was a closed-fist punch, and the clerk may have felt compelled to participate because Hammon was a supervisor, Viti said.

Hammon’s name came up in two other controversial situations in recent years.

He was the supervisor of three male deputies who, according to a 2018 investigation, were known by jail employees as “team sexual harassment,” the “sexual harassment trio” or “the creeper crew.”

And in an internal affairs investigation by the county attorney’s office, Hammon was identified as the jail officer who complained about a “snitch” informing the attorneys about a 2016 death in the jail.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!