Society

Utah Town Demanded Cash on the Spot from Foreign Tourists Pulled Over for Traffic Citations

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

The city manager and policy chief in a Utah town were brought up on charges in February stemming from allegations that they allowed the police department collect cash from foreigners for traffic citations. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the case was since dismissed, but the state still has not received payment on thousands of citations collected by Springdale police.

Imagine visiting Zion National Park, getting pulled over for a traffic violation and being ordered to pay the fine immediately to the officer. That is what tourists from Spain allege happened to them in 2011. An investigation by the Utah Attorney General’s office found this cash-on-demand practice began in 2007. The practice was aimed at foreign tourists  visitors not sure of the law and fearful of running into trouble in a foreign land.

Earlier this year Springdale City Manager Rick Wixom and Police Chief Kurt Wright were charged with third-degree felony counts of failure to keep public money, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The charges were dismissed at a preliminary hearing Wednesday because 5th District Judge Wallace Lee said he could not find evidence that they knew the practice was illegal.

Defense attorneys Douglas Terry and Clifford Dunn admitted “having officers collect cash bail on the street was a bad policy,” according to The Spectrum.

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Springdale is a small town sitting right on the edge of Zion National Park, which has millions of visitors each summer. The bright idea to charge foreigners on the spot had something to do with the fact that so many tourists returned to their home country without ever paying the citation. But it is unclear just who came up with the idea.

As noted by The Spectrum, officers were not charged with pocketing the money. The attorney general’s office found most of it was being deposited directly into the city’s bank account, which is in violation of state law that requires traffic citations be filed in court within five days of issuance. Court personnel are supposed to divide the money up between the state, the court and the municipalities served by the court.

At the prelimary hearing witnesses testified that Wright claimed the police had permission to take money from tourists from retired Hurricane Justice Court Judge Richard Carr. Carr denied the allegation.

"I was a law enforcement officer in California for 25 years," Carr said Thursday. "I never heard of such a thing as collecting money from any tourists on the highway."

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"There are still unresolved issues, loose ends that need to be tied up," said court administrator Sandra Bailey. She said the town has only paid bay $11,000 of what it owes from the citations.

A state audit found 132 citations unaccounted for. A state report sent to Springdale in June said: "the possibility exists that officers could have written citations, collected the citation fines from the defendants on the spot ... destroyed the citations and kept the money without anyone ever detecting.”

Springdale Mayor Pat Cluff denies that anything like that could have happened.

"I would just hate to see this case be set as a precedent, to allow law enforcement to do what Springdale did and get away with it," Bailey said.

Sources: Salt Lake Tribune, The Spectrum