West Jordan councilman pleads not guilty to hit-and-run charge

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

A West Jordan City Council member pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge of failing to remain at the scene of an accident after purportedly backing into a parked car while drunk.

Jeff Haaga was cited by South Jordan police on July 19 for the hit-and-run incident at the parking lot of a local tavern near 1500 West and 9000 South. A patron initially gave Haaga a lift home from the bar, but the councilman allegedly returned on foot to get his car, documents state. He started to drive away and backed into a car after 7:30 p.m.

Police did not charge Haaga with DUI, though a bartender told police he’d ordered four 24-ounce beers and one shot of whiskey and witnesses say he was obviously intoxicated — because too much time elapsed between the crash and when officers first made contact with him at his home. South Jordan officers — substituting for West Jordan police to avoid a conflict of interest — questioned the councilman on the incident about 8:40 p.m.

The crash caused minor damage, but incited backlash from residents and city officials after police video showed Haaga telling responding officers that he wouldn’t have to answer to the misdemeanor charge because he has “protection” as a government official.

“You know I’m a councilman,” he says in the recording.

Haaga has not attended either of the two city council meetings since then, including the Aug. 10 one at which a motion to censure Haaga — not for the crash but for attempting to use his position to get special treatment — failed 3-2 because four affirmative votes are required to pass in the seven-member body.

Two past mayors and several former city council members have called for Haaga to step down, as has the nonprofit Alliance for a Better Utah. An online petition sponsored by the group had 227 signatures as of Thursday. Among the supporters commenting on the petition was Councilwoman Sophie Rice, who wrote “We must make a firm affirmation that as citizens we will not permit, condone, tolerate, or turn a blind eye to corrupt, threatening or unlawful behavior from our public officials. Period.”

West Jordan released a statement on the citation, noting Haaga cannot, by Utah law, be placed on leave or removed from office for the citation. His hit-and-run case — a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail — will be heard before South Jordan City Justice Court Judge Clint Balmforth after West Jordan Justice Court Judge Ronald Kunz recused himself. A pre-trial conference date has not yet been set.

A request for comment from Haaga’s attorney, Tyler Ayres, was not returned Thursday.

Read The Salt Lake Tribune article here.

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