PROVO — The city has paid $750,000 to settle a claim that city officials failed to fully vet former Police Chief John King or adequately respond to alleged sexual misconduct by King.
In a statement issued Thursday, Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said that the city would have had to spend “a substantial amount of money” to mount a defense in the federal lawsuit, brought by five women who said King subjected them to lewd comments, leering, uninvited touching, groping and — in one case — rape.
“We also wanted to bring the issue to (a) conclusion to allow healing among our police department employees and be able to move forward from these incidents,” Kaufusi said.
It’s the second time a U.S. city has paid to resolve an allegation of sexual misconduct by King. Baltimore did the same in 2013, just over a month before King was hired by Provo.
King resigned his Provo post in 2017 after he was accused of rape by a college student, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. King has said the sex was consensual, and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill declined to bring criminal charges based on the available evidence.
James Young, Deseret News
Provo Police Chief John King
Then-Provo Mayor and current 3rd District Congressman John Curtis has said he asked King to resign anyway — though Curtis has admitted he erred by initially announcing that King was leaving for “family reasons” and then throwing King a going-away party at taxpayer expense.
The plaintiffs alleged that the city’s mistakes began far earlier.
First, they blamed city officials for hiring King when he had abruptly resigned from two previous executive jobs. Provo has said that a third-party search failed to raise any red flags, though both resignations made Maryland newspapers that are searchable online, and King was reported by The Baltimore Sun to have been escorted from his office.
Then, plaintiffs argued, Curtis and others responded insufficiently to complaints about King’s conduct, which included a formal human resources report from a dispatcher in 2014, an anonymous employee survey response in 2015 and an anonymous email sent a few months later.
The lawsuit says that when Curtis briefed police department leaders at a fall 2014 meeting, he gave them the impression that King’s “power was unlimited, his actions unchecked, and any complaints against him would be ignored.”
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
FILE – Provo Mayor John Curtis addresses the media with information related to the departure of former Provo Police Chief John King at the Provo City Council Chamber on Thursday, March 16, 2017.
Curtis has said he examined all complaints against King with the utmost seriousness, ordering King to retake sexual harassment training and to refrain from moving among employees in the department’s dispatch center. Curtis’ primary purpose in the 2014 meeting was to show support for King’s unpopular new beat policing strategy, he said.
Besides the college student, who met King at a 2016 citizen advisory board meeting, all of the plaintiffs worked for King. One longtime employee said she was groped at a copy machine and asked to come back to work after surgeries because King “missed the scenery.” Another female police officer said King groped her under her flak vest.
Part of the settlement was paid by Provo’s insurance carrier, according to a combined statement from the city and the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The women’s attorney, Michael Young, said his clients felt it was “unfortunate” that they had to resort to litigation and that they are “eager to put the lawsuit behind them.”