Zakia Richardson (left), the attorney for former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson, walks into the 7th District Court on Oct. 23 for a hearing over claims that the city conspired to have Davidson terminated. [Photo by Ashley Bunton / Moab Sun News]

A case was thrown out of court by a judge who appeared skeptical at a former city manager’s claim that the City of Moab conspired behind the scenes to have her fired.

Former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson filed suit against the city after she was terminated in 2017. She claimed her First Amendment right to free speech had been violated, and that she should have been protected as a whistleblower after she called the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report possible city employee conduct and policy violations. The city denied those claims, and asked the judge for a summary judgment in the case due in part to Davidson’s not having enough evidence to support her allegations.

The suit was litigated for three hours during a hearing on Oct. 23 in front of 7th District Court Judge Don Torgerson. At the conclusion of the hearing, Torgerson told the parties to the suit that he was taking the matter under advisement. After two months, he issued his final decision to throw the case out on Dec. 26.

The city said Davidson’s termination from the city manager position stemmed from her “anger, yelling and intimidation” toward other city employees, court statements revealed. At one point during her time as city manager, Davidson allegedly picked up a baseball bat and used it to intimidate a city employee. Davidson disputed and denied those claims through her attorney in court, and she did not appear on her own behalf for the hearing on Oct. 23.

Davidson’s attorney, Zakia Richardson, represented her in the case that she lodged against David Sakrison, former Moab mayor, and the city as a group who conspired to terminate her.

Attorney Mary Ann May represented the city, as several city employees, including current city manager David Everitt and Sakrison sat behind May.

The proceedings unfolded during the hearing to present a linear timeline of events leading up Davidson’s termination as city manager. There were several motions and exhibits that were discussed, although some of the information has been publicly redacted to protect the identities of some of the city employees and private citizens who came forward, according to statements made in court.

Some of the redactions relate to claims that the Moab City Police Department had “run amok” and Davidson claimed she “risked her job for this public policy concern.”

Davidson maintained throughout the suit that she launched an investigation into the police department as a part of her official duties as city manager. The city, however, countered that argument by saying that an investigation into the police department would be handled by an outside third party, not a city manager, and that a city manager’s official duties do not mean “she becomes an unofficial police chief” to investigate and hold officers accountable.

Eventually, Davidson’s own investigation into the police department led her to believe she needed to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over her concerns.

When the Moab Sun News called the FBI to inquire into whether the agency had become involved in investigating the city, a spokesperson said the FBI’s policy is to neither confirm nor deny investigations, and strongly suggested starting with any state-level agencies.

A Utah State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) report was completed on the police department and a redacted version is filed with the suit in court. A majority of the claims included in the redacted SBI report about the police department were found to be unsubstantiated, but there are listed instances in which evidence was mishandled and the past conduct of certain police officers was investigated and documented. The Moab Sun News has requested the full investigative report without the public redactions, but has not received a response to the records request as of press time.

Davidson claimed that her calls to the FBI — it’s unclear whether she ever contacted the SBI, and according to court statements, the SBI never contacted her — from her desk in the city manager’s office is one factor that eventually led to her termination. The city said her speech had nothing to do with her termination.

“Regardless, she would have been terminated based on reports,” May said, referring to Davidson’s mistreatment and intimidation of other city employees — a slew of allegations, including the baseball bat incident, that Davidson’s attorney repeatedly said were false.

“Her allegation is that the mayor, working behind the scenes, got the (Moab city) council to terminate her based on these false allegations,” Torgerson surmised as he leaned back in his chair.

“Yes,” Richardson said.

“It’s just speculation at this point,” May said, adding that there was no evidence brought forward by Davidson to support any of her claims. “She said, ‘I don’t know why, but they concocted some reason to terminate me.’ … Just her belief that the mayor was pulling strings without any evidence … is fatal to their claims here.”

Following up on his decision to dismiss the suit, Torgerson wrote that Davidson was speculating about the reason for her termination and provided no evidence to proceed in court with the allegations.

Outside of the courtroom after the hearing, when asked if Davidson would be willing to speak about the case over the phone, Richardson told the Moab Sun News that she would pass the media request along to Davidson. Davidson has not contacted the Moab Sun News.

Former city manager’s claims not backed by evidence, judge rules

“It’s just speculation at this point.”