Garrity Warning Need Not Include Decertification Possibility

Written on 06/10/2022
Will Aitchison

Charles Hoffman worked as a po­lice officer for the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office in Utah. In May 2018, Hoffman learned that a neighboring law enforcement agency had been tasked with investigating an incident involving one of his fellow officers. Hoffman was not on good terms with the officer involved and, despite being prohibited from doing so, approached several officers from the neighboring agency and asked them about the inves­tigation. Three of these officers reported Hoffman to their superiors, and word eventually reached the County.

In response to those reports, Hoff­man was interviewed by two of his superior officers on May 31, 2018. At the outset of the interview, Hoffman received a written statement of rights, captioned, “The County Sheriff Garrity Warning.” The statement indicated that Hoffman was “to fully cooperate with the investigating official(s)” and that Hoffman’s statements could “be used as evidence of misconduct or as the basis for seeking disciplinary action.” It further provided, “Any statements made by you during these interviews cannot be used against you in any subsequent criminal proceed­ing, nor can the fruits of any of your statements be used against you in any subsequent criminal proceeding.”

Hoffman’s superiors then asked whether he had discussed the officer-in­volved incident with anyone from the neighboring agency. Hoffman stated that the investigation had come up in conversation with two officers, but he denied having asked them for any specific information.

Hoffman was later re-interviewed after his superiors confirmed the sto­ries of the officers who had reported him. This time, Hoffman admitted to discussing the investigation with four additional officers. He also indicated that he had asked the officers for the date and time of the incident, along with the name of the investigating officer. Based on those admissions, The County gave Hoffman notice of potential discipline, but Hoffman left the agency before any discipline occurred.

The County referred Hoffman’s case to the Utah Division of Peace Offi­cer Standards and Training (POST) for further action. POST found that there was clear and convincing evidence that Hoffman had given incomplete and inaccurate information to his superi­ors during the Garrity interview and revoked his peace officer certification.

Hoffman challenged POST’s de­cision in the Utah Court of Appeals. One of his claims was that the Garrity warning given by the County was faulty because it did not warn him of the possibility of decertification. The Court disagreed, and upheld Hoff­man’s decertification.

The Court held that “the County’s warning was not as narrow as Hoffman asserts. The County expressly advised Hoffman that his statements could be used as evidence of misconduct or as the basis for seeking disciplinary action against him. This language encompass­es the threat of ‘disciplinary action’ by POST – an entity with authority to investigate and discipline peace officers for misconduct.

“Moreover, the crux of Garrity lies in the choice a public employee must make regarding self-incrimination or their continued employment. If a public employee is required to answer as a condition of their employment, the employer must remove the threat that the officer’s statements given in a dis­ciplinary interview could later be used against them in a subsequent criminal prosecution. Here, The County assured Hoffman that his statements could not be used against him in any subsequent criminal proceeding. Accordingly, that warning is valid.”

Hoffman v. Peace Officer Stan­dards and Training Council, 2022 WL 732040 (Utah Ct. App. 2022).

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