SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The police chief of one of Salt Lake City’s largest suburbs was fired because female employees accused him of giving them lingering hugs that included pressing against their chests and inappropriate touching, according to a report that provides new details about why he was removed from the post earlier this week.
Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker failed to follow through on his own promise to stop the hugging after a complaint, according to an investigative report from an outside attorney made public Thursday night in response to public records requests from media outlets including The Associated Press.
The investigation found no evidence that Thacker sexually assaulted any employees. But it concluded his frequent hugs made women feel uncomfortable and male employees who observed them were embarrassed, creating an “unprofessional and inappropriate” atmosphere.
Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn announced Thacker’s firing Tuesday, saying only that Thacker had been accused of “inappropriate touching.”
In an interview with investigators, the report said, Thacker denied any wrongdoing and described his hugs as “very innocent.”
He disagreed with the descriptions of the hugs given by the women and said he hugged male employees as often as women. Thacker, Sandy’s chief since 2014, said no one ever objected to the hugging.
A message left at a listed phone number for Thacker seeking comment was not returned Friday.
Thacker’s firing marks the latest #MeToo moment in Utah’s law enforcement community and comes after a lawsuit filed by five women last month accusing former Provo Police Chief John King of sexual misconduct and assault and alleging the city should not have hired him.
And in Utah’s Davis County, three male sheriff’s deputies are facing possible discipline after being accused of harassing female employees in the corrections division, The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week.
Thacker had spent more than three decades as an officer with the police department in Sandy, a city of about 96,000 south of Salt Lake City.
The investigation was not triggered by a formal complaint or police report from employees, but by Bradburn who ordered the outside investigation after hearing complaints from police staffers, said deputy mayor Evelyn Everton.
The report was dated Monday, but dates of the interviews or alleged activity are blacked out in the redacted report. It was unclear how many employees were interviewed and how many women reported feeling uncomfortable with the hugs.
The witnesses expressed reluctance to talk with investigators, saying they feared the probe could make things worse for them with Thacker or earn them labels in the department of being disloyal, wrote attorney Scott Hagen, who conducted the investigation.
Thacker described himself as a “hugger’ to others and would regularly rub his hand up and down across the women’s backs or the side of their bodies, the report said. He also put his cheek up against the women’s cheeks.
Female employees said Thacker sometimes touched their hands, neck, shoulders or upper thighs in awkward or inappropriate ways. One woman told investigators it often felt like he was trying to “cop a feel.” He did not hug male employees, the report found.
Thacker had been on paid? administrative leave since April 2.
In the report’s conclusion, Hagen found that Thacker minimized his actions in his own mind and was not completely forthcoming in his interview. Hagen added that there may have been an element of cover-up, but did not elaborate.
Bradburn took office this year after winning a race last November against former Mayor Tom Dolan, who had served for 24 years.
Bradburn made headlines in February when KUTV-TV uncovered that he had given himself a $15,000 raise weeks after taking office. Bradburn later apologized and instead took pay cut of more than $20,000.
Bradburn said in a statement Thursday said the report showed a “pattern of inappropriate touching and unprofessional conduct” that left him no choice but to fire Thacker. He praised the police department employees who spoke to investigators.