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The City Journals

Beau Babka: “Canyon Inn was a Target”

Sep 10, 2015 09:57AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Richard Markosian

Former Cottonwood Heights police officer Beau Babka held a press conference, along with around twenty business owners and concerned citizens, telling members of the media (at least four major news outlets were in attendance) that officers in Cottonwood Heights Police Department were ordered to specifically target customers of the Canyon Inn. This was done in an effort to put them out of business, to make way for the new development project. The $57 million Canyon Centre development has been stalled now for nearly seven years, due to a series of both financing and PR problems. Canyon Centre is managed by politicians who are also developers. Chris McCandless and Wayne Niederhauser, and financed by Kevin Gates.

Accusations of the targeted harassment of customers have been ongoing since Cottonwood Heights formed its own police department in 2008. The Canyon Inn’s owner, Jim Stojack, 7-Eleven owner, Lani Roberts, along with the owner, David Larsen, of the Lifthouse and Bryan O’Meara and Byron Loveall, of Porcupine Pub, have complained about the ongoing targeted harassment of their customers for the past seven years. 

Kelvyn Cullimore, Mayor of Cottonwood Heights, has denied any wrongdoing, and has called Jim Stojack a “rabble rouser.” Cullimore has said that his intentions have “always and only been to help small business owners and the community of Cottonwood Heights by keeping the roads safe.” 

Yet, at this press conference, Babka said that orders came “directly from the city and from the developers.” The eventual closure and purchase of the Canyon Inn would make room for a new public transportation hub and entrance for the major development, which includes two hotels and a park. Plans were obtained by business owners that indeed showed their businesses gone and a UTA “kiss and ride” in the place of the Canyon Inn, 7-Eleven and Lifthouse.

The mainstream media television and newspapers were present at this press conference, including Fox 13, Channel 4 and at least one major newspaper. Yet, they chose to give the story scant attention. Perhaps the reason they shy away from covering this story further is because Babka’s reputation was tarnished back in 2011, after he was discharged from the Cottonwood Heights Police Department for using a city credit card to fill his personal vehicle with gasoline. Babka was convicted of a felony and pleaded guilty to the wrongdoing under the charge of “misuse of public funds.” The severity of the punishment for this theft we address later in this story.

Residents and Business
Owners Speaking Out

Besides Babka and the business owners at the mouth of the canyon, over 2,400 residents of Cottonwood Heights have signed a petition calling for Cottonwood Heights to “stop the heavy-handed treatment of residents and business owners.” The area is now recognized as a “DUI zone,” causing many residents to take their business elsewhere. Canyon Inn has seen their customer base decline by 70 percent.

Dozens of residents and visitors to Cottonwood Heights have been victims of police harassment, and many specifically told Utah Stories of their ordeals involving officers accusing motorists of drunk driving. 

One area dentist who said, “I’ve never had a drop of alcohol in my life,” was forced to exit his car and undergo a sobriety test. Even after he was released, he was told he was pulled over for swerving out of his lane and given a warning and no apology for the unwarranted sobriety test and accusations. The dentist said that all of the accusations were completely false, and the harassment and mistreatment caused him to choose another way to drive home from work.

Likewise, employees of Snowbird and Brighton told Utah Stories that they were also victims of harassment, when they were simply attempting to drive home from work. 

Lack of Attention to
Other Area Bars

The CHPD spent very little or no time staked out at other area restaurants and bars that serve alcohol, such as the Market Street Broiler or The Hog’s Wallow, which both reside less than about one mile from the mouth of the canyon. Neither have any complaints against CHPD. Besides the Canyon Inn, 7-Eleven’s beer sales plummeted after the police presence became oppressive. Even after Roberts attempted to tell officers to not loiter on her property, despite the formal complaints she has filed, Mayor Cullimore has never personally met with Roberts to address the issue. The issue of entrapment and fourth amendment violations are clearly documented from both Roberts’ video surveillance footage and Stojack’s personal recordings.

Evidence of Wrongdoing

Canyon Inn Owner Jim Stojack has video footage showing officers waiting in both the parking lot of 7-Eleven and the park and ride to pull over a succession of his customers. Stojack also says that his employees were targeted and pulled over two to three times a week by the same officers, forcing several of his longtime staff members to resign due to the constant bullying.

Utah Stories conducted a Freedom of Information Act request at the recommendation of local DUI attorney Tyler Ayres, who said that the conviction record of Cottonwood Heights in his dealings must be far worse than any other city along the Wasatch Front, due to his defending and defeating many bogus DUI tickets issued from CHPD. 

Utah Stories found that Cottonwood Heights Police Department’s dismissal record was 19 percent for 2011. This means that 19 percent of motorists issued DUIs were overturned, because they did not blow over the legal limit for intoxication. The next highest overturned PD was Salt Lake at 4 percent. When we asked Mayor Cullimore what he has to say about his police department issuing nearly five times as many bogus DUIs compared to any other city, Cullimore said, “I’m proud of their record; they are keeping our roads safe.”

Constitutional Violations
of Police Misconduct

The issue of police pulling over and harassing residents without any probable cause to do so is a violation of the fourth amendment of the Constitution. There are few local laws that protect residents against unlawful probable cause, or unlawful stops, which has allowed Cottonwood Heights Police Department to get away with blatant violations for nearly seven years. The Department of Justice website states under their “Police Misconduct Provision” that it is “unlawful for local law enforcement officers to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights by the Constitution of laws of the United States” (42 U.S.C 14141). The types of misconduct include discriminatory harassment, false arrests, sexual conducts and unlawful stops, searches or arrests. And this must be proven to be a “pattern or practice.”  Under these guidelines this certainly seems like a perfect case for the Department of Justice.

In 2013, West Valley City was part of a Federal probe over a narcotics conspiracy where officers were found stealing seized money and drugs. It was the West Valley Police Department itself that asked the FBI for help investigating the wide-spread corruption after the unlawful shooting death of Danielle Willard was suspected. The probe resulted in the disbanding of the narco unit and the resignation of the police chief and resignation of several officers.

When Utah Stories asked Cullimore about how CHPD conducts their internal affairs investigations, he told Utah Stories that he is the head of internal affairs and anybody who has a complaint can issue that complaint directly to him. 

There is no state mechanism, other than the Attorney General’s Office, to file complaints against the targeted abuse of businesses by city police departments. Stojack and Roberts have written letters to Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, the FBI and Department of Justice concerning CHPD. Attorneys are coming forward now, wishing to review their cases, based on their very strong evidence.

Jim Stojack video recorded himself exiting his parking lot to document the abuse by the officers, but then Stojack found himself as the victim of CHPD harassment.

In the video recording, the police officer first accused Stojack of  “swerving out of his lane.” For which Stojack replied, “I did not do that, let me see your video tape.” Then the officer accused him of changing lanes without using his signal. Stojack again denied and asked to see the tape. Finally, after striking out on the first two accusations, the officer issued Stojack a ticket for not yielding to oncoming traffic. When Stojack said, “but nobody was behind me,” the officer said, “I was behind you.” The footage also shows that the officer, who was driving in front of Stojack, pulled over so that he could tail Stojack. The entire sequence of events clearly shows a violation of unlawful arrest. This video can be viewed on the City Journal’s website

Stojack spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on attorneys and four delayed court dates fighting this minor infraction. After all the time and effort, the case was dismissed. Babka indicated that the targeting of customers and issuing of ongoing bogus DUIs was intentional and even commended. UTCJ has found that Babka’s claims are corroborated by other former CHPD officers.

Beau Babka’s Reputation

Utah Stories and City Journals was recently contacted by another former CHPD officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, who said that Babka was only charged with the felony conviction for theft and “misuse of public funds” because he was speaking out against the practices of the CHPD. “Officers were using the city credit cards to fill their personal vehicles, but when they were caught, they would be reprimanded and asked to repay the money, but never convicted or charged with a felony... Babka was charged and fired because he was speaking up,” said the former CHPD officer. 

Our source is currently a police officer in another state. He also corroborates that corruption and targeting of specific businesses at CHPD is done from orders by the mayor’s office. “The mayor said that he wanted them ‘driven out of town,’ and Chief Russo even offered $50 bonuses to officers who issued DUIs to Canyon Inn customers.” 

He says that he wishes to remain anonymous presently for fear of retribution, but he will consider publicly revealing his identity if more former officers and staff of Cottonwood Heights Police Department come forward. He provided USCJ with names of former staff members who also resigned because of the blatant abuse of power found at CHPD.  

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder Vs. Cottonwood Heights Police Department

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder has spoken to Utah Stories in the past, telling us that the manner in which Cottonwood Heights broke away from Unified PD and formed their own police department was an act of betrayal by former Salt Lake County Lieutenant Robby Russo. Russo was hired by the county to act as a liaison between the Cottonwood Heights mayor’s office and the Unified PD and County operations. 

Sheriff Winder said that instead of Russo doing his intended job—which was to improve communication and operations with the City of Cottonwood Heights —he betrayed Sheriff Winder by instead working on ways to build the case with Kelvyn Cullimore to break away police services from the county and form their own police department. Russo was promised the position of chief of police for the new CHPD, a position he has held since the inception of Cottonwood Heights PD in 2008. CHPD was formed and initiated without voter approval.

Utah Stories, in an effort with the City Journals, would like to have your stories and interactions with the Cottonwood Heights Police Department, both good and bad, that we can share with our readers. Even for those who wish to remain anonymous, we only require that readers can verify their identity with a Facebook account or e-mail. We offer everyone the opportunity to post their comments and stories attached to this ongoing story.      λ

Editorial Comment: 

We praise all of the excellent work that so many thousands of police officers do on a daily basis to improve the communities and lives of so many residents by doing excellent police work. We know that the vast majority of police officers take their job of public service very seriously, and we commend their efforts in keeping our neighborhoods, homes and roads safe. We would like to also reach out to readers to collect some comments and stories about officers who you have personally interacted with who are doing a great job. We would like to highlight a few of them in this paper. 

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