Investigation • Highway Patrol supported by state board in firing trooper.
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One closed-fist punch could have warranted Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Andrew L. Davenport's termination.
But Davenport threw six of them at a woman's head in 2010, according to a Utah Career Service Review Board report recently released to The Salt Lake Tribune after a state open-records request. The board in October upheld the firing of Davenport, who now works as an Ogden patrol officer.
On Aug. 28, 2010, Ogden police attempted to stop a woman who was "driving erratically and appeared to be impaired," according to the board's report. The chase was later turned over to UHP troopers, who pursued 60-year-old Darla R. Wright, then of Ogden, for suspicion of reckless driving and evading police.
Troopers eventually stopped her in a parking lot near 4800 S. Harrison Blvd. in Ogden. Police have said two UHP cars blocked her in, but she continued to try to drive away. Since Wright didn't respond to commands to show her hands, Davenport said in his initial police reports, he broke the window and "delivered three close-hand strikes to her head in an attempt to gain compliance with commands." The review board later reported that he delivered six close-fisted blows.
He said his blows were intended to "distract and stun her and to stop her from trying to drive off and strike our vehicles or possibly run us over." Reports say Wright was also stunned with a Taser twice and had a gun pointed at her.
Wright was booked into the Weber County Jail and later charged with failure to stop at the command of a police officer, a third-degree felony, but on Jan. 13, 2011, prosecutors dismissed the case.
Davenport, 37, was fired on Jan. 19, 2011, after a five-month internal investigation. He appealed the decision to the board.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner Lance Davenport, a cousin of Andrew Davenport, said in a disciplinary report that during his time heading the agency since 2009, no other sergeant had been terminated for excessive use of force. However, he agreed with other high-ranking UHP officials that Andrew Davenport's use of force was excessive; in fact, no other trooper of any rank had been accused of hitting a suspect with a closed fist.
After its review, the board found Andrew Davenport violated numerous department polices regarding use of force, ethical conduct, use of mobile recording equipment and assault.
The excessive use of force not only violated UHP's policy but also "brought dishonor and disrepute on the agency," according to the board's report issued on Oct. 26.
In Davenport's trainings as an officer, it was explained that strikes with a forearm or open hand may sometimes be acceptable in getting someone out of a vehicle. However, closed-fist punches were never taught or encouraged, as they could be potentially deadly.
According to the report, Davenport also shut off his microphone at one point during the incident and didn't coordinate any directions by radio to his squad about how to approach the car before stopping it, leading to a chaotic traffic stop.
One trooper jumped over the hood of the suspect's car with a gun in hand, pointing it at the suspect; another deployed a Taser through the back passenger side window. Davenport ran up to the car and at one point was in the line of fire of the other officer's pointed gun, according to the report.
The board said Davenport failed basic skills on how and when use of force should be used and "could not be trusted to use it properly in the future."
Davenport was employed by UHP as a trooper for several years and was promoted to sergeant in 2007. He oversaw and led a group of troopers in the Weber and Morgan County area.
The board said the incident created a lack of public confidence with UHP and its officers, even though UHP never announced it was investigating the incident until Wright was charged.
"The fact that there were no public repercussions is not evidence in [Davenport's] favor; it is merely evidence that the [UHP] fortunately avoided a long-lasting negative public perception," the board said in its report.
Wright said her experience has left her with marred outlook on the agency.
"The wounds will never heal up from that night, I mean inside of me," Wright said in a phone interview. "I don't like any law enforcement agency, period. I don't trust them anymore."
Wright now lives in Arizona. She moved out of Utah in April last year and doesn't plan on coming back. She says she still suffers chronic headaches from the "traumatic experience" and was surprised to learn fromThe Tribunethe trooper had been fired.
The report details several scenarios Andrew Davenport gave of troopers whose employment was not terminated despite misconduct. In one, a trooper hit his wife and used a gun in a domestic dispute, but it was when the trooper was off-duty. Other incidents Davenport brought up were times when troopers used force, by fighting on the ground or using a Taser, but none of the incidents involved the use of closed-fist punches for getting someone out of a car.
The board said in the report that Davenport's examples were like comparing "apples and oranges" and his conduct was "in a class by itself."
The sergeant's use of force in the dash cam video shows his lack of restraint in his verbal and body language, the board said. His actions showed that despite years of training, he was acting out of anger and was "unable to control his temper."
The board decided Davenport also appeared to fail to show remorse for his actions and tried to minimize how many times he hit the woman, even though one blow was strong enough to cause the woman's head to go downward to the opposing seat.
Wright reached an out-of-court settlement with the state. UHP spokesman Dwayne Baird said the settlement was $25,000. Baird also said the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council was looking into Davenport's conduct for possible decertification, but since no criminal charges were filed, no further action was taken.
However, it is possible for the council to take action even without a conviction if it finds clear and convincing evidence of criminal conduct.
Phone calls seeking comment on this story from the Ogden police chief and Davenport were not returned.
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The following factors were cited by the Utah Career Service Review Office in upholding Andrew L. Davenport's termination:
The incident occurred while on duty.
It involved the use of closed-fist punches contrary to training.
It involved the use of repeated punches.
Davenport was a sergeant with supervisory authority.
The conduct involved acts that separately violated Utah Highway Patrol policies and training. For example, he failed to coordinate and plan with his other troopers as well as excessive force and turning off microphones.
Davenport appeared to fail to show remorse or admit culpability for an extended period of time.