Peak Alarm Sues Salt Lake City, Verified Response Policy Architect
SALT LAKE CITY
Peak Alarm Co. has sued the city of Salt Lake City, its police department and Alarm Coordinator Shanna Werner, saying they violated one of its employee’s rights when he was prosecuted and later cleared of making a false alarm. The lawsuit filed April 7 in the Third Judicial District Court of Salt Lake Count says the constitutional rights of Peak Alarm’s Central Station Manager Jeff Howe were violated and defamed when a criminal charge of making a false alarm was filed against him in 2003 under the city’s verified reponse ordinance.
The case, in which Howe faced six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, was dismissed by a judge in April 2004. Howe had been accused of making a false alarm in dispatching officers to a reported break-in at a school.
“This took place at a school and if Jeff was going to err, it was going to be on the side of caution,” Howe’s attorney, Stephen Clark, told Security Sales & Integration. Clark says Howe was arrested and fingerprinted in Peak Alarm’s lobby. “That’s an abuse of government’s power. Government shouldn’t use the law to send messages. This was a malicious prosecution.”
The plaintiffs – Peak Alarm, Howe and his father, Peak founder Jerry Howe – are seeking monetary damages of more than $133,000 plus punitive damages, though Clark says money is not an issue. Clark, formerly the ACLU’s legal director in Utah, has an extensive history with constitutional cases and says the Howe case also deals with governmental violation of civil rights.
“Any time you have the government putting the full weight of criminal law on somebody, you have to be sure it is fair and reasonable,” Clark says. “The purpose of the law is to say while reasonable people can disagree on no-response laws, private security companies can’t be hamstrung with the threat for being criminally prosecuted for making an honest mistake.”
Peak Alarm, in business for more than 30 years, was recently a winner of two awards at the 10th Annual SAMMY Awards, including a grand prize for Integrated Marketing Program of the Year.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the city’s corporation, Werner and 14 other individuals, including Salt Lake City Police Chief Charles “Rick” Dinse. The lawsuit cites several comments, letter and E-mails made by Werner, including a letter published in the June 2002 edition of Security Sales & Integration, as examples of her “painting a broad and damaging brush” of the alarm industry.
Werner told SSI that she has been told not to comment on the case and directed comments to Salt Lake City’s attorney’s office. Senior City Attorney Morris Haggerty said he could not comment on pending litigation.
Werner helped create the city’s verified response policy that took effect in December 2000, where police don’t respond to alarms unless they have been verified by someone at the scene.
“The city wasn’t content to have a fair and open public debate. It resorted to false and derogatory statements and then sought to use the full force of the criminal law to virtually put us out of business,” Jerry Howe said in a statement. “This is an abuse of power, and Peak Alarm won’t stand quietly by while its employees and business are maligned.”
Clark says Peak Alarm has been trying to work with the city and its police department on reducing false alarms, but has been rebuffed by the police.
“[Peak Alarm] came to me and said we’ve tried every way to establish a working relationship,” Clark says. “It seems the city is determined to treat us as outlaws, and that isn’t right.”
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