SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Five women claimed in a lawsuit Tuesday that the city of Provo and former Mayor John Curtis failed to take action to protect them from alleged sexual harassment and assault by the city’s former police chief.
The city and mayor failed to prevent misconduct or discipline former Chief John King after allegations of harassment emerged in 2015 and 2016, the lawsuit alleges.
Curtis, who stepped down as mayor in November when he was elected to Congress, said in a statement Tuesday that he never protected a predator or abuser and acted responsibly with the information he had at the time. Curtis, a Republican, asked King to resign in 2017 because of a sexual assault complaint against the chief that prosecutors determined did not warrant charges.
“Like most situations, in hindsight, perhaps there could have been things done better,” Curtis said in a statement. “At the time, with all the facts that I had, I believe I did the best I could and followed the protocols established by the City of Provo acting on the advice of the city attorney and human resources.”
King has not commented on the allegations. A message left at a publicly listed number for King was not returned.
When King resigned in March 2017, he said the move was to to devote more time to his family.
Curtis revealed the sexual assault allegations against the former chief days later, saying at a news conference that a woman told city officials a month earlier about the alleged assault. After Salt Lake County prosecutors deemed the information was “insufficient” to bring charges, Curtis said he had asked King to resign.
In a statement issued by his congressional office Tuesday, Curtis called the allegations against King “appalling.”
“His reported actions against the people that serve and protect our communities with honor are despicable and I strongly condemn them. The brave women who have come forward have my full support,” Curtis said.
Curtis is not specifically named as a defendant in the lawsuit, though the women say he failed to take enough action when harassment allegations surfaced early on. The lawsuit alleges that in 2014 the former mayor held a meeting with police department supervisors and, with King at his side, told the supervisors that he did not want to receive any more complaints about King.
The city of Provo said in a statement Tuesday night that it would not comment on the lawsuit’s specific allegations because its legal team is reviewing the complaint and an internal investigation by the city into the allegations is ongoing.
“Provo City does not and will not condone sexual harassment, nor does it condone intimidation or retaliation against employees for reporting misconduct or pursuing rights under the law,” the statement said.
The lawsuit also claims the city hired King without investigating his sudden departure from his past jobs. Records from Baltimore County Police Department show the department in 2012 investigated allegations that King, then head of Baltimore city’s policy training program, had groped a co-worker.
The records show King denied the allegation and resigned days later after six months on the job, the Daily Herald in Provo and Salt Lake Tribune reported.
The lawsuit also questions why King abruptly left his job as police chief in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 2010. The Gaithersburg Town Courier at the time reported King resigned days after city officials brought in a state trooper to serve as an interim police chief and met behind closed doors to discuss a “personnel matter.”
King did not comment at the time on his resignation but the Town Courier reported that city officials said he resigned to work in the private sector.
King became the Provo police chief in January 2014.
Records from the Unified Police Department, which investigated the Provo assault allegation against King, show the woman said she was afraid to refuse King’s advances because of his powerful position.
The records show King acknowledged having sex with the Utah woman who worked with him on department projects.
The Associated Press is not identifying the women because it does not generally name alleged victims of sexual harassment or assault.
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