‘He never thought he was entitled to special treatment’: West Jordan councilman pleads guilty to hit-and-run charge (with video)

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

South Jordan • Without saying more than “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Your Honor,” embattled West Jordan city councilman Jeff Haaga pleaded guilty Friday morning to leaving the scene of an accident after purportedly backing into a parked car while drunk.

The plea was part of an agreement reached between Haaga’s attorney and the prosecutor. Haaga was sentenced to pay a $500 fine and complete 180 days on probation. Any jail time — which can range from zero to 90 days for a Class C misdemeanor — was suspended.

Haaga was cited by South Jordan police for a July 19 hit-and-run incident at a local tavern near 1500 West and 9000 South. Witnesses said Haaga was obviously intoxicated after ordering four 24-ounce beers and one shot of whiskey, so when he went to leave a patron gave him a lift home.

Officers considered charging Haaga with DUI, but did not because too much time elapsed between the crash and when they first made contact with him at his home. South Jordan officers — substituting for West Jordan police to avoid a conflict of interest — questioned Haaga on the incident about 8:40 p.m.

Though the crash caused minor damage, Haaga incited backlash after telling police he had “protection” from the violation because he is a public official.

“You know I’m a councilman,” he says in the video captured by police body cameras.

After his pre-trial conference Friday, Haaga rushed to his car and declined to comment. Haaga’s attorney, Tyler Ayres, applauded his client for taking “full responsibility” for his actions and called it a fair and “pretty standard” resolution. Ayres also denied that Haaga attempted to use his position as a councilman to get special privileges.

“He never thought he was entitled to special treatment,” Ayres said, “and he regrets if he insinuated that.”

Haaga will not resign, Ayres said, despite a failed motion by the West Jordan City Council to censure Haaga and several calls from residents for him to step down.

“My client made a mistake,” Ayres said.

West Jordan released a statement after the July 19 incident, noting Haaga cannot, by Utah law, be placed on leave or removed from office for the citation.

The prosecutor, Scott Burns, said Haaga’s plea deal was “what any other person would receive.”

“He received no special treatment because of his position,” Burns said.

South Jordan City Justice Court Judge Clint Balmforth, who heard the case after West Jordan Justice Court Judge Ronald Kunz recused himself, told Haaga he would “expect no more” incidents like this from the councilman.

Alliance for a Better Utah issued a statement following the Friday plea renewing its call for Haaga’s resignation: “Councilman Haaga’s admission of guilt after claims of some kind of ‘protected’ status by virtue of his position, months of silence and absence from council meetings, does not show a true understanding of accountability to his constituents for his actions.”

Read the Salt Lake Tribune article here

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