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More questions flew this week surrounding sexual harassment at the Salt Lake City Police Department after Mayor Ralph Becker issued a statement that such behavior is "unacceptable."

The mayor's dictum comes on the heels of a notice of claim by three women planning to sue Salt Lake City — but years after their allegations first surfaced and about 18 months after the mayor said he became aware of the sexual-harassment claims.

The process that concluded with the retirement of Deputy Chief Rick Findlay in June was a lengthy one that critics say allowed Findlay to stay on the payroll and administrative leave until he could reach 20 years of service and retire with full benefits.

But according to a June 4, 2014, letter from Chief Chris Burbank, the harassment — substantiated by the Police Civilian Review Board — was not a firing offense.

The allegations also have been sustained by the city's Department of Human Resources, according to the women's claim.

In an interview Thursday, Burbank said the notion that the investigation was stalled to allow Findlay to retire is false. Because the harassment did not rise to the level of termination, the chief said, Findlay could stay in a subordinate position until he reached the 20-year threshold.

"His conduct was inappropriate, especially for a leader in my organization," the chief said. "He lost his career in law enforcement. He paid a hefty price for what he did."

Although Findlay's retirement brought closure to the disciplinary process, the women's notice of claim and Becker's response brought renewed concerns, including those of City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall. The mayor's statement is at odds with the facts, she said.

"If we are going to say sexual harassment is unacceptable but not grounds for firing, then it is acceptable," she said. "When the department waits until he can retire with full benefits, then we have shown it is acceptable."

Challengers seeking to oust the two-term mayor in November also weighed in.

"If you're the mayor, the buck stops with you," said challenger Jackie Biskupski, who is a top administrator for Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. "For the mayor to have said nothing about this for the past year is shocking."

According to city records, the Police Civilian Review Board submitted its finding to Burbank on Jan. 2, 2014. Five months later, Burbank wrote to Findlay with copies also going to the Civil Service Division, police Internal Affairs Department and the city attorney's office. In it, the chief excoriated Findlay for his behavior, deemed it not a firing offense and then accepted his resignation.

Council Chairman Luke Garrott, who also is running against Becker, said it was disturbing that it took the chief months to act. Moreover, he wondered why the mayor had allowed it to drag on.

"From our perspective at the City Council, we were wondering why the Findlay matter wasn't addressed earlier by the mayor and the chief," Garrott said. "We were wondering why the hell is this guy on administrative leave?"

Officer Tiffany Commagere, Sgt. Robin Heiden and former Lt. Melody Gray allege that Findlay shared with police colleagues a sexually suggestive image of a naked woman he said was Commagere. In addition, Findlay showed fellow officers an image of Gray and Heiden in bikinis. Gray has stated that Findlay took that image from her phone without permission in April 2011.

The trio realized Findlay had the images when colleagues said they had been shown the photos by the deputy chief.

The women filed complaints with superiors at the police department. And, according to their claim, all became targets of retaliation.

In August 2012, Gray, an 18-year veteran of the police department, resigned when Findlay began a disciplinary proceeding against her, according to the claim.

Heiden, who is a sergeant, was blocked by Findlay from advancing to the rank of lieutenant, the claim said.

And Commagere was reassigned to another position as retaliation, according to the claim.

State law requires someone planning to sue a government entity to first file a notice of claim.

In an interview, Becker said he made his statement over the Memorial Day holiday weekend after news outlets reported the women would sue. "Salt Lake City had to go on record that sexual harassment is unacceptable," the mayor said.

Becker became aware of the women's allegations about the time the Civilian Review Board sent its findings to the chief. A disciplinary process was underway, the mayor said, and he wanted to let it work without interfering.

"We have a system where we want people who feel they have been aggrieved to have the ability to make a complaint and for them to be heard," Becker said. "It was being dealt with."

But Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said the process took too long and its outcome was less than adequate.

"Sexual harassment should be grounds for immediate termination," he said. "I don't understand why stronger action wasn't taken."

The City Council will meet Tuesday as part of its annual budget discussions. The Department of Human Resources is expected to be on the agenda.