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A West Jordan City Council member was cited for leaving the scene of an accident last week but told officers he wouldn't have to respond to the violation because he has "protection" as a government official.
The apparent attempt by Jeff Haaga to get special treatment in a police investigation was denounced by some colleagues and may lead to a censure vote.
Haaga was cited by South Jordan police for a July 19 incident in which witnesses say he drunkenly backed his car into a parked vehicle, according to police reports. Officers were "on the fence" about also citing him with a DUI offense, Lt. Matt Pennington said, but decided against it because of an hour-long gap between the hit-and-run accident and when police made contact with Haaga.
Haaga was purportedly at a bar near 1500 West and 9000 South in West Jordan for lunch. A bartender told police he had ordered four 24-ounce beers and one shot of whiskey, police reports note. He went to leave and a small group of men took away his keys, fearing he was "very intoxicated" and unable to drive, documents state.
A patron drove Haaga home, but the councilman later walked back to the bar to retrieve his car, witnesses said. Haaga got in his sedan about 8 p.m. and backed into a parked car, causing "minor damage," estimated at more than $1,500, Pennington said. Haaga, though, had left the scene before police arrived.
South Jordan officers arrived at Haaga's home substituting for West Jordan police to avoid a conflict of interest to question him on the incident about 8:40 p.m. A police body camera video obtained by the West Jordan Journal shows Haaga, sitting on his porch, telling officers "You know I'm a councilman" and insisting the men who took his keys "assaulted" him. He told officers he had two beers and initially denied hitting the car, reports state.
Haaga did not respond to several requests from The Tribune seeking comment; his court record shows a handful of previous traffic citations.
At a West Jordan City Council meeting Wednesday from which Haaga was absent, Councilman Chad Nichols asked for a censure motion to be placed on the agenda for the next meeting.
The request came after former West Jordan Mayor Melissa Johnson, during the citizen comment period, called for censure and for Haaga to immediately resign his office.
"Public office is not a shield to be used to deflect responsibility for your actions. The fact that you are a council member does not give you a free pass to ignore the law," Johnson said. "It does the exact opposite. By swearing the oath of office you promise not to only passively obey but to actively defend [the law]."
Alliance for a Better Utah, a political advocacy group, also called for Haaga's resignation in a statement released Friday because of the "seriousness of his actions."
Current West Jordan Mayor Kim Rolfe did not return calls Thursday, and Councilman Chris McConnehey declined to comment.
Councilman Zach Jacob, favors censure, fearing that if the council does not condemn Haaga's behavior, it is "possibly affirming his course of action." Though unsure whether a censure vote would have majority, Jacob wants the council to discuss it publicly.
The motion, he said, would be to express disapproval of Haaga "for attempting to use the fact that he's a councilman to sway the situation somehow, more than any crime he may or may not have committed."
West Jordan released a statement on the citation, noting that the city followed "standard procedure" in handing the case over to South Jordan police. The city also said Haaga cannot, by Utah law, be placed on leave or removed from office for the citation.
Haaga's case will be heard before South Jordan City Justice Court Judge Clint Balmforth. Initial requests for scheduling were deferred by Haaga while he seeks legal counsel.