Kamas chief receives two-year suspension
A dispute with his stepdaughter that turned physical last spring has resulted in the suspension of Kamas Police Chief Errik Ovard’s certification to work as a police officer in Utah.
During their quarterly meeting Jan. 12, Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) councilors voted 12-1 to suspend the chief for at least two years, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said. "I am damn mad," said Kamas Mayor Lew Marchant, who stood by Ovard throughout the case.
POST Council is a 16-member board that decides how violations affect an officer’s ability to work in the state. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. appointed Edmunds to the board in December, but the sheriff recused himself last week from voting on Ovard’s case because the Summit County Sheriff’s Office investigated the matter last March.
Ovard was arrested and booked into the Summit County Jail March 3 after he allegedly assaulted his adult stepdaughter in Kamas. During an argument, Ovard allegedly placed the woman in handcuffs twice. According to court documents, the chief then forced the woman into his police vehicle.
Minutes later, another skirmish between the two resulted in Ovard allegedly choking the alleged victim, court papers filed by prosecutors state.
According to court documents, "The victim suffered minor, reddish bruising about her neck. [Ovard] then escorted the victim in a restraining hold back to the passenger side of the police car."
"She tried to exit the vehicle again, but Mr. Ovard then pushed her back into the vehicle again grabbing her by the throat," court papers state.
Last April, Ovard pleaded no contest to misdemeanor domestic assault and unlawful detention charges. No-contest pleas are normally viewed as convictions but Ovard received a plea-in-abeyance agreement from prosecutors that allows for dismissal of the charges if he meets the terms of his probation.
When Ovard walked out the courtroom last year, however, his troubles had only begun. "He’s very, very fortunate he didn’t get a four-year suspension, if not an outright revocation," Edmunds said. "There was some serious misconduct that was engaged in."
The case was so divisive in South Summit last year that hundreds of people felt compelled to sign petitions in support of the chief. But those signatures did not influence the outcome, Edmunds said.
"The facts of this particular incident were obliterated," Edmunds said, adding that he presented evidence from the case to the POST Council last week. "I question [Ovard’s] peace-officer abilities and I’ve questioned those for a long time."
The "debilitating" suspension could make it tough for Ovard to obtain another job in law enforcement in Utah, the sheriff said.
But the POST Council’s decision surprised Marchant, who disagrees with Edmunds’ assessment of Ovard’s abilities. "I’m still trying to deal with my feelings about it," Marchant said. "Morally, this was totally wrong."
According to Gerry D’Elia, Ovard’s attorney, the chief’s stepdaughter was driving recklessly in South Summit with a two-year-old child in the car the day Ovard confronted the woman.
"It’s definitely a miscarriage of justice," Ovard said Tuesday. Council members went against a 12-page recommendation issued in October by J. Richard Catten, an administrative law judge, that states, "charges against [Ovard] should be dismissed and his peace officer certification (should) not be suspended or revoked." "There was absolutely no basis that [Catten] could find for any of the charges against Errik Ovard," Marchant said Tuesday. "It just blew my mind." He says Edmunds may have influenced other POST Council members to vote against Ovard. "In an election year, I came away from there thinking this is nothing more than a political maneuver by a bunch of hypocritical, self-righteous individuals to protect one of their own," the mayor added.
The sheriff called the allegation "absurd to levels that I can’t even articulate." "It’s absolutely, categorically preposterous and it really speaks volumes about whoever is saying that, it speaks volumes about their intelligence," Edmunds said.
POST Council is made up of officers and civilians with decades of experience in law enforcement, he added. "Somehow I influenced these men and women? Somehow I manipulated them?" Edmunds asked. "Any sophisticated individual who looked at the facts would know how absurd that is."
Ovard is performing administrative duties for the Kamas Police Department until the City Council determines how to proceed.
The chief says he is considering appealing the POST Council decision because Edmunds had a conflict of interest when he lobbied the board for Ovard’s suspension.
"He should have excused himself from any discussion in the case," Ovard said. "[Edmunds] was extremely vocal in getting me gone some of the reactions that were expressed in the council were dictated by Edmunds."
His roughly 10 years of law enforcement experience rivals the sheriff’s, Ovard said, adding that he would miss working with the residents of Kamas.
"As for working with the sheriff’s department I’m not going to miss that," Ovard said.
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