Provo files motion to dismiss negligent hiring lawsuit in John King case

Former Provo Police Chief John King is pictured when he became the new chief in 2013. King resigned in Jan. 2017 over sexual assault allegations, and a lawsuit was brought against him in March. (Provo City)

Provo City has filed a motion to dismiss litigation alleging it negligently hired former Provo Police Chief John King, who is facing litigation for allegedly sexually assaulting five women.

The law firm Snow Christensen and Martineau, representing Provo City, held a press conference Thursday, where lawyer Heather White said in a statement “the allegations the plaintiffs make against Provo City are inconsistent with what actually occurred.”

White continued that Provo City was not reckless in hiring King because it had outside professionals perform employment and criminal background checks. These outside professionals provided no information that King had resigned from two prior positions for misconduct. “There was no information that Mr. King was anything but qualified and suited for the position.”

However, the Salt Lake Tribune recently obtained emails between Provo City and management consulting firm Citygate Associates, which show Citygate knew about King resigning as the chief of the Gaithersburg Police Department in Maryland, but a Citygate employee stated in an email to Provo human resources that he was not worried about it.

White’s statement continues that city officials responded “swiftly and appropriately” when informed of King’s alleged misconduct.

White said in the first report the city received of King’s alleged misconduct, the claimant “specifically instructed her supervisor not to report her claims to anyone.” The woman also did not tell a police officer about King’s alleged misconduct when asked why she was leaving her job as a dispatcher.

White also said the city promptly launched an investigation, which revealed the woman’s claims about King looking at her chest and other inappropriate behavior. King denied the allegations and was instructed by then-Mayor John Curtis, now a Utah congressman, to discontinue any behavior that could be perceived as inappropriate. White said the woman continued as a part-time dispatcher for nine months without any further problems.

White said the city received a second report of alleged misconduct in the form of several anonymous comments about King touching female employees. Despite having no evidence to support these claims, Provo City launched an investigation that resulted in King receiving supplemental sexual harassment training.

White said the third report of alleged misconduct the city received was in February 2017, when a woman claimed King sexually assaulted her. Then-mayor Curtis and the city attorney contacted the Utah County Attorney’s Office, which referred the case to Salt Lake County to avoid a conflict of interest. Salt Lake County ultimately declined to file criminal charges against King because it could not meet its legal burden of establishing the sexual encounters were not consensual.

Despite no criminal charges being filed, White said Provo City insisted King resign.

White said the remaining complainants alerted the city of King’s alleged misconduct after he was no longer police chief, so the allegations were referred to the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. She said the city is unaware of the status of Utah County’s investigation.

She also said the city does not have a culture of harassment or discrimination. “On the contrary, the city has zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”

White quoted from Provo City’s policy, which states the city is “strongly committed” to prohibiting sexual harassment, and they will enforce penalties against those who sexually harass others and those who knowingly allow such behavior.

She also said the city designates multiple people to take harassment complaints, and its employees are regularly trained on harassment policies.

“The city did not and will not retaliate against anyone for reporting any type of alleged misconduct,” White said.

White said the city went beyond self-reporting, such as having third parties conduct surveys with current and outgoing employees. These surveys revealed issues alleged victims did not report themselves.

“Each investigation ended with recommendations about how to improve an already aggressive program for identifying and resolving complaints of harassment and discrimination,” White said. “This is entirely inconsistent with the culture of fear and retaliation the plaintiffs try to present.”

She also said then-mayor Curtis has acknowledged his mistakes in this case; in addition, the claims against the city are separate from the claims against King, “therefore, we do not have an answer for you at this point about what is next.”

Parsons Behle and Latimer, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, responded to Provo’s motion with a statement expressing its disappointment.

“We are disappointed that the City of Provo has chosen to extend litigation in this matter instead of taking responsibility and accountability for the actions of their Chief of Police, whom they should not have hired or retained as long as they did,” it reads. “The Plaintiffs obviously strongly disagree with the City of Provo’s versions of events expressed today. We disagree with the city’s statement that it did not have a culture of harassment or discrimination and disagree that it followed its policy on harassment with regard to these Plaintiffs. Mayor (Michelle) Kaufusi could resolve this and allow everyone to move forward. Instead, the City of Provo is again failing these women. We do believe it’s time for Provo to do right by the women they hurt.”

The Daily Herald reported King spoke out through attorney Loren Weiss, saying he denies all allegations of wrongdoing and is confident he will successfully defend himself.

The Daily Herald also received a statement from Curtis, saying he respects the legal process and that, as mayor, he worked hard to create a safe place for people to be heard.

Neither Weiss nor Curtis immediately returned requests for comment from the Daily Universe.

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