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Officer Gary Jason Burnham was awarded a Medal of Merit and received 10 commendations during his tenure with the South Salt Lake Police Department.

But he also was slapped with six complaints alleging excessive force, sexual misconduct and other violations. And in a department where the majority of officers never face an Internal Affairs investigation, Burnham was the subject of four.

Now a federal judge says the department didn't do a thorough job following up on all the complaints, and a woman who claims Burnham drove her to his apartment while on duty and sexually assaulted her can sue the city.

Erin V. Nielson argues in her lawsuit the department knew or should have known Burnham propositioned women while on duty and was a danger to women left alone with him. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups determined a jury might find the city acted with "deliberate indifference" to sexual misconduct by its officer, a legal standard that must be met to determine liability.

Burnham has denied Nielson's allegations. South Salt Lake contends it is not liable for Burnham's alleged actions because the police department properly screened and trained the officer. In court documents, lawyers for the city also stress that all six complaints against the former officer were unsubstantiated after investigations by law enforcement agencies.

In his Oct. 22 ruling, Waddoups noted the half-dozen complaints were filed against Burnham between 2002 and 2005, resulting in four Internal Affairs investigations. Two of those cases included allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence from Burnham's now-ex wives.

"Additionally, one of the women provided specific details about incidents of sexual misconduct Burnham engaged in with other women while on duty," Waddoups wrote. "Despite this information, no steps were taken to follow up on those other incidents, other than asking Burnham if the allegations were true."

The judge added that a jury could conclude that South Salt Lake exhibited a "pattern of inaction" that caused the alleged injuries to Nielson.

Waddoups did give South Salt Lake a partial victory by dismissing some of the claims made by Nielson alleging negligence and unreasonable search and seizure.

In her suit, Nielson alleges Burnham cited her for underage drinking on July 2, 2005, then took her to his apartment and sexually assaulted her. The then-19 year-old, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.194, said she lost consciousness and cannot remember everything that happened that night.

Burnham initially denied any sexual contact but later said the two had consensual sex, according to court documents. He resigned from the police department on Aug. 26, 2005, after six years on the force.

A few days later, Internal Affairs concluded there was insufficient evidence that Burnham sexually assaulted Nielson but that he had lied and violated departmental policy. The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office declined to bring criminal charges.

After his wife filed a complaint in 2003 with the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office alleging domestic violence, Burnham completed a domestic violence counseling course, according to Waddoups' ruling.

Burnham, 37, who also remains as a defendant, has filed a counterclaim accusing Nielson of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking at least $20,000 in damages.

No trial date has been set.

The lawsuit

Erin V. Nielson, then 19, says she was drinking alcohol with a friend on July 2, 2005, when South Salt Lake police Officer Gary Burnham cited her for underage drinking. He then took her to his apartment while still on duty and sexually assaulted her, Nielson alleges.

Nielson filed suit in U.S. District Court accusing Burnham and the South Salt Lake Police Department. She is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Burnham, who resigned as a police officer soon after the alleged assault, and the department deny the allegations.