Update: New Provo interim police chief announced after former chief resigns

Capt. Rich Ferguson. Photo Courtesy: Provo Mayor's Office

PROVO, Utah, March 20, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Provo Mayor John Curtis has announced the appointment of Capt. Rich Ferguson as the city’s interim police chief after former chief John King resigned last week amid allegations of sexual assault.

“Provo deserves an interim chief who has the leadership, service history, skills and respect of the department and our community,” Curtis said in a news release. “Appointing Captain Ferguson enables our department and city to move forward quickly.”

Curtis, at a Thursday morning news conference, said that on Feb. 8 of this year, a woman came forward to say she had been sexually abused by the chief. To avoid any conflict of interest, the investigation was handled by the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office.

At the news conference, Curtis stopped short of saying whether he believed sexual allegations against his police chief and friend, King, were true.

What Curtis did say was that it’s very hard for a public official to effectively lead after the public becomes aware of such serious allegation.

“On the one had, I had information and a strong desire to help the victim,” Curtis told members of the media. “On the other side is a man’s career, and we wanted to protect both. We had an investigation and no charges were filed, but my feeling was it was appropriate for Chief King to resign.”

On March 1, Curtis said he received a letter stating that the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office had found “insufficient evidence” to file criminal charges against King.

Then, on March 10, Curtis received a letter with additional information, he said. Curtis declined to share information from the followup letter.

“I met with King,” Curtis said. “We mutually agreed that his resignation was in the best interest of all…. Irregardless of how valid charges were, he has been tainted and damaged, and my feeling was that it would be impossible for him to go on leading the department” with that hanging over his head, Curtis said.

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“I don’t think it’s fair to say he has been cleared of those charges,” the mayor added.

Curtis did not share information about the woman’s identity, except to confirm she was not a city employee or a minor.

When Curtis originally learned of sexual misconduct allegations, he called King, who was on family leave due to a life-threatening health issue facing his mother, Curtis said. King also faces a health issue, which Curtis described as debilitating but not life-threatening.

It was decided that King’s leave would be extended during the investigation. When King’s resignation was announced on Tuesday, multiple media outlets were told it was because he needed to return to the east due to family matters. King’s mother lives in the Baltimore area.

News of the real reason for King’s sudden departure broke on Wednesday. Curtis defended the earlier story, saying the health issues were real, and “not made up.”

Curtis said King is upset.

“As you can all imagine, the chief is crushed,” he said. “Any of us that had these accusations leveled as us would be devastated. But I feel a need for balance here. There is another person in this who I also worry about, but I don’t have enough information to speak for her or on her behalf.”

The interim police chief was selected from four department captains, and Curtis said he hopes to make a final hire within three months.

The vetting process, which includes a nationwide search and a series of interviews and reviews, usually takes six months, Curtis said, but he has been asked to speed up the process.

The Provo Police Department will hold a news conference at 3 p.m. Monday to formally announce the interim police chief’s appointment.

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