Audit finds Springdale police took cash for tickets from foreigners

SPRINGDALE – According to findings released Monday from the Office of the Utah State Auditor, Springdale police officers took money from foreign tourists for tickets.

For many years, foreign tourists who were cited by Springdale Police had the option of paying the officer s at the time the citation was received, according to the police response to the state auditor’s findings.

“The majority of (foreign) defendants were happy to post cash bail to alleviate the inconvenience of paying by mail or appearing before the magistrate,” Springdale police stated in the report. The police also said a previous arrangement with a previous Hurricane Justice Court administration had been made which allowed officers to accept direct payments.

The practice was discontinued in October 2011.

The Office of the Utah State Auditor began examining the Springdale Police after receiving a complaint from a European tourist. According to the report, the tourist said an officer told her “she must pay the fine immediately and that it had to be paid in cash.”

The Springdale Police said they always gave defendants the option of paying directly, by mail, or in court. Paying the officer was simply the easiest way to settle the fine.

However, state auditors stated the “practice was inappropriate.” They also said the Hurricane Justice Court “did not authorize these practices” and that there was no evidence such an agreement ever existed.

State auditors noted that police officers collecting direct payment for citations violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states no person will be denied “equal protection,” under the law. The practice was also said to violate the Utah Constitution, which provides that no one person “shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”

“A police officer acting as in the capacity of law enforcement, judge, and jury by collecting cash bail from only certain categories of persons without proper reason for doing so could violate these provisions,” state auditors wrote.

The audit, which was conducted from January 2011 to January 2012, found that officers had collected $11,640 in cash from foreign defendants. It was also found that a number of Springdale did not account for all the citations police officers issued. Of 423 citation used for cash bail, the audit also determined 138 were missing. Auditors wrote there was a possibility that police officers could have destroyed the citations and kept the money for themselves.

Concerning the missing citations, Springdale Police wrote that they were contained in a box that was approximately 10 years old. The citations, all written in the Town of Virgin (the Springdale Police also cover Virgin and Rockville), had disappeared sometime in the last decade.

“It is impossible to determine the time period when the citations went missing; any time within the past 10 years,” Springdale Police wrote.

Also according to the Springdale Police response, Police Chief Kurt Wright held interviews with his officers and “felt confident that they were truthful with him and had not committed fraud or theft.”

Some recommendations were made by the state auditor’s office to Springdale Police, which have been taken into consideration and practice according to the police response.

“We no longer take cash bail from defendants,” the police wrote. As for better bookkeeping, the police wrote that administrative assistants would track and sequence all citations made by police officers.

Concerning any additional investigations, Paul Murphy, a spokesman for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said in an email to St. George News, “Our office has not yet been approached to investigate.”

Ryan Shaum, Deputy Washington County Attorney, added that the county attorney’s office was not an investigative entity, and like the state attorney, had yet to be approached by any other agency seeking criminal charges. A matter of who will conduct an investigation is still being determined, Shaum said. Will it be done at the county or state level? Shaum said he didn’t know.

“There’s no final decision yet,” he said.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com
Twitter: @MoriKessler
Copyright 2012 St. George News

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