Moab Police Department Chief Bret Edge [file photo]

As of Monday, Jan. 24, Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge has returned to work after an extended period of leave, but he will likely not be back in the position for long. A brief press release from the city issued Jan. 25 said Moab will be looking for a new police chief.

“The City understands that the community has concerns about the police department,” the statement says, “and after the mayor and the acting city manager met with Chief Edge it was determined that at this time he will serve in the position in a transitional role and the City will be seeking alternative leadership.”

Turmoil at the department

Edge has served as chief of the department since 2019. He took the position following the departure of previous Moab Police Chief Jim Winder, who joined the department in 2017 but resigned to return to where his family was still located in the Salt Lake City area. Winder was filling the void left by long-time Moab Police Chief Mike Navarre, who resigned in 2016 after 28 years on the force and shortly after statements from the county attorney at the time, Andrew Fitzgerald, saying that several officers on the Moab police force could not be trusted in court. Those statements followed a highly publicized incident in which Moab police officers were investigated for their handling of an underage drinking event.

The department has continued to experience challenges. Officers have continued to carry out their duties, and some have been recognized with state awards for exceptional service over the last several years, but the agency continues to appear unstable. Edge took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act beginning on Sept. 27, amid various problems at the department. Earlier in 2021, several Moab City police officers abruptly resigned; inadequate staffing meant that officers were working longer shifts; a district court judge publicly admonished the department for repeatedly failing to follow body camera policy; a Moab police officer was investigated for possibly mishandling an incident, and later also resigned; an investigation was initiated into Moab police officers’ handling of a domestic violence incident involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie, (Petito was later found murdered, bringing heightened attention to the Moab incident); local resident Jayne May and her attorney, Happy Morgan, publicly accused the department of mishandling a domestic violence case involving May. May specifically noted Edge’s apparent dismissive attitude toward a criminal, life-threatening event she experienced.

An investigation into complaints May filed against Edge and the department was completed and the report was recently made available to the Moab Sun News through a GRAMA request. The report finds multiple violations of Utah code and department policy in the way the case was handled; the report from the investigation into the Petito/Laundrie incident also found multiple policy violations committed by Moab officers. In response to these reports, the city said it plans to add a trained domestic violence specialist to police staff, conduct an overall review of all police policies, and ensure ongoing training for officers.

During his leave, Edge documented on social media travels with his family to outdoor destinations for camping, hiking and biking. Some of his posts on public social media accounts promoted his photography business, leading some news outlets to question whether he violated the city’s employee policies on using paid sick leave to perform work on an outside job.

On Jan. 20, Nate Carlisle of Fox13 News reported on the issue, quoting social media posts and comments in which Edge apparently sold images through his photography business while on Family and Medical leave.

Future leadership

Assistant Chief Braydon Palmer has been acting as chief during Edge’s absence. Palmer took the assistant chief position in the spring of 2021 after former assistant Chief Mike Thurston resigned. Palmer joined the MCPD in 2017 after serving three years with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.

The city’s job listing for the police chief position says that in order to qualify for the job, a candidate must have a bachelor’s degree in a related field as well as 10 years of experience in law enforcement, five of which must have been at the rank of a sergeant or higher; or an equivalent combination of education and experience. The City of Moab’s proposed pay plan for 2021-2022 lists the maximum police chief salary at $141,418.

The city also has a job opening listed for a police officer which pays between $21.65 and $24.35 depending on qualifications.

While the city looks for police chief candidates, the Jan. 25 statement from the city says the police department and city administration “will work together on a comprehensive evaluation of the agency and will develop and implement improvements that may be needed.”

“He will serve in the position in a transitional role and the City will be seeking alternative leadership.”  Moab City press release