Audit: UTA police made mistakes at Obama inauguration
Public safety • Agency is considering what changes to make to the force.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Read the entire audit at http://bit.ly/ttImA9

When three Utah Transit Authority police officers suspected a sergeant of being drunk at the Barack Obama inauguration, someone should have made the sergeant take a sobriety test, according to an audit.

Instead, the sergeant left early from his post at the inauguration, which was attended by an estimated 1.5 million people. When UTA later tried to investigate the episode, they had only the witness accounts of the three UTA officers. Then, instead of believing the account of their own officers, UTA supervisors took the word of a Washington, D.C., transit supervisor, who said he did not think the sergeant was intoxicated.

The sergeant received a letter of caution, according to the audit conducted in February by the Cottonwood Heights Police Department. Other armed UTA officers drank alcohol before boarding airplanes to and from the inauguration and were not disciplined, the audit said.

The Obama inauguration is mentioned throughout an audit of UTA police. UTA released the audit last week after repeated inquiries by The Tribune and at the behest of UTA board member Troy Walker. UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said the agency requested the audit after allegations of misconduct were raised by officers on the UTA force.

Carpenter said the agency believes many of the recommendations in the audit have merit, but UTA is still determining what changes to implement. UTA has hired one management consultant to review its police force and is about to request bids for a second consultant with expertise in policing, Carpenter said.

"The security and safety of our passengers are our top priority," Carpenter said.

The Tribune reported in May that the audit had uncovered allegations of alcohol violations by some of the six officers UTA sent to help police with the Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration. The audit discusses the inauguration only in the context of how UTA investigates complaints against its police officers.

The officers were told in advance that federal regulations prohibited them from drinking before boarding airplanes, the audit said. Yet there was no discipline issued.

As for the sergeant who was accused of being out drinking until 1 o'clock the morning of the inauguration, he was late to a 4 a.m. briefing, the audit said, and other UTA officers said he was "unkempt" and had "bloodshot and glossy eyes." Later in the day, the sergeant left his post early "under the guise of an upset stomach," the audit said.

UTA officers would later report the sergeant got so drunk at the airport bar that another sergeant was worried they wouldn't be allowed to board the plane, the audit said.

The audit said another UTA sergeant was at the inauguration and should have administered a sobriety test to the sergeant under suspicion. UTA was further comprised because a supervisor who investigated the episode was a close friend of the sergeant.

The audit identified some general problems with UTA police: Detectives lacked training in how to conduct an internal affairs investigation, documentation was missing from internal affairs reports, UTA applied discipline inconsistently, and UTA needed to discipline officers who complain about other officers based on hearsay information.

In its response to the audit, UTA argued there was no conflict of interest between the supervisor and the sergeant under suspicion because they were not family nor romantically involved.

The audit also raised the question of whether there was racism in the UTA police force, though UTA, in its response to the audit, denied there was any evidence of discrimination. Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robby Russo, in a letter following up on the audit, agreed claims of racial bias were unsubstantiated and should be stricken.

UTA will have 53 police officers by the end of the year and anticipates adding officers as additional train lines open, Carpenter said. Carpenter declined to say whether an officer with alcohol violations similar to those that occurred at the inauguration would receive more severe discipline today.

"Each case is unique, and we take any allegation of impropriety seriously," Carpenter said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle —

New sheriff for UTA?

Utah Transit Authority had discussions earlier this year about placing its police under the control of Salt Lake County's Unified Police Department. However, UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter on Friday said those discussions have never extended beyond the "conceptual stages" and he is aware of no further discussions.