SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The attorney for a Salt Lake City police officer who was placed on leave for refusing an assignment to work a gay pride parade last weekend said Monday that his client has been defamed by inaccurate comments made by the police department.
Attorney Bret Rawson said the officer didn’t refuse to work the parade, but asked to be taken off the motor team that leads the parade and reassigned to behind-the-scenes duty. Rawson declined to divulge the officer’s name. Salt Lake City police have not named him either.
The officer felt being on the motorcycle would make it appear he was advocating for gay pride, something that made him uncomfortable because of his personal and religious beliefs, he said. He never flatly said he wouldn’t work the parade, merely asking for a different duty, Rawson said.
“You are essentially participating in the actual parade,” Rawson said. “It’s more than doing traffic, or patrol or regular police duties.”
Salt Lake City police said last week that the officer was placed on leave for refusing to provide traffic control and security for the annual Utah Pride Parade.
“We don’t tolerate bias and bigotry in the department, and assignments are assignments … To allow personal opinion to enter into whether an officer will take a post is not something that can be tolerated in a police department,” department spokeswoman Lara Jones told KSL-TV.
Jones said Monday she can’t comment because the officer has hired an attorney, a sign of pending litigation.
The officer remains on administrative leave, Jones said.
Rawson, however, said his client has stepped down because of untenable work conditions. The officer, who has worked seven years in the department, is upset about the way what happened was conveyed to the media, Rawson said.
“He really did nothing improper,” Rawson said. “He has never shown any prejudice or bigotry to any person in his role as a SLC police officer.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill had earlier expressed his disappointment and concern when it was originally reported that the police officer refused to work the parade for personal reasons.
He said when you choose the profession of public service, there are no strings attached.
“We cannot qualify the delivery of that service,” Gill said, “which we promise to a community based on individuals who say ‘well, I`m going to pick and choose which call to respond to, which fire to put out or which person to serve.’
“Do you want the fate of your loved one to be qualified upon the personal beliefs of this agency that is supposed to be responding to render aid and support?,” he said. “We cannot let that be the qualifying or distinguishing aspect or delivery of that service, because if we do, then we are all in trouble.”
While gay rights have been recognized in Hawaii, and same-sex marriage is now legal in the state, there have been some opposing outcry.
A banner near Magic Island promoting the recently held gay pride parade staged annually in Waikiki was found slashed several times. The culprit was never caught, and the parade went on without incident a couple of days later.
And in November during public testimony during the Legislature’s special session on legalizing same-sex marriage, veteran Honolulu police officer Tenari Maafala, and the president of the State of Hawaii Police Officers Union, said while he would continue to uphold such a law while a policeman, warned that he could become a “lawbreaker” after retirement due to his religious beliefs.
A fellow veteran and openly gay police officer John Zeuzheim, who also testified, responded that Maafala’s comments undermined the trust between Honolulu police officers and the local LGBT community, even though Maafala was speaking as a public citizen.