Prosecuting sex crimes: Utah County attorney touts improvement, but current backlog unclear

Jun 3, 2022, 8:12 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 10:00 pm

UTAH COUNTY, Utah – David Leavitt’s controversial decision to dismantle the Special Victims Unit in the Utah County Attorney’s Office has become a key issue in his bid for reelection.

He said data released by the office Friday proves his approach has been successful. Jeff Gray, Leavitt’s opponent in this month’s upcoming Republican primary election, disagrees.

“The truth is, we’re doing the job,” Leavitt said. “We’re doing a great job at it.”

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt. (KSL TV)

Under his watch, Leavitt said the office hired a statistical specialist to track certain data points that have not previously been tracked over time. Some of the data released Friday shows an increase in prosecution rates for cases involving sex crime allegations. It also shows a decrease in declination rates.

“These numbers demonstrate better results for victims,” he said.

When Leavitt took office in 2019, he said the Special Victims Unit had a nearly 400 case backlog. He defends his decision to eliminate the specialized team, saying the move has increased efficiency in prosecuting sex crime cases and now almost all of the prosecutors in the office have received SVU training.

What’s unclear is how those changes have impacted the current backlog. Investigators asked for that information last February.  Leavitt said he did not have specifics.

On Friday, that had not changed.

“The actual number of special victims’ cases that may be part of the backlog is something we haven’t drilled down yet specifically,” said Leavitt.

While he could not provide a current number, he claimed the backlog has improved.

“There’s always going to be some backlog, but it’s not significant and it’s not harming victims,” said Leavitt.

Chief Deputy Sandi Johnson later clarified that the 400-case backlog from 2019 has been addressed. As for the current backlog, she said sex crime cases referred to their office through January of this year have been reviewed by an attorney and either filed, declined, or sent back to law enforcement for more information.

Johnson and Leavitt said priority is given to cases in which a suspect is incarcerated.

The KSL Investigators have identified multiple cases involving alleged sexual violence that stalled for months after law enforcement sent them to Leavitt’s office for screening. One case involving a teenage victim took five months to screen, and records show a now pending sexual abuse case against Republican Senate candidate Brandon Beckham stalled for seven months.

‘This has got to change’: In Utah, sexual assaults are poorly tracked and under prosecuted

“We screened that when a victim called and said, ‘What’s the status of this?’” said Leavitt, addressing the delay in filing the case against Beckham. “And our policy is, if the victim calls and inquires, we pull it up, we screen it, we get it done.”

Leavitt says his office is ahead of most when it comes to prioritizing data collection, but they’re not yet tracking how long it takes to screen cases involving alleged sex crimes.

“That’s an absolute concern,” said Gray, who’s hoping to unseat Leavitt. “Those cases need to be screened and decided upon in an expeditious and short time.”

Gray said he’s skeptical of whether Leavitt’s office has properly addressed the current backlog and believes the training Leavitt says most of his prosecutors now have is not sufficient. Gray says prosecuting sex crimes requires years of experience and on-the-job learning.

Jeff Gray. (KSL TV)

“It’s a process that you go through,” he said. “And there’s a reason it’s special.”

Leavitt said the intention behind the release of data on Friday was to let victims know his office has made progress in addressing sex crime cases.

The release comes two days after a bizarre series of news conferences involving Leavitt on Wednesday.

Leavitt publicly called for an investigation into the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, to determine if law enforcement colluded with a rape suspect in Scotland fighting extradition to Utah, or if the sheriff’s recently announced investigation into ritualistic child sexual abuse is a politically motivated attack on Leavitt. During that press conference, Leavitt also publicly discussed a 2012 case that was dismissed, sharing that he and several others are named in a 151-page victim statement alleging the cannibalism and murder of children.

Utah County Attorney calls for outside review of sheriff over ritual child abuse investigation

Leavitt denounced the claims as entirely false and repeatedly called the alleged victim in that case “tragically mentally ill.” Sheriff Mike Smith criticized Leavitt’s characterization.

“These are victims of crime who have mustered the courage to come forward, and this is what we call them is mentally ill?” asked Smith, during his Wednesday press conference.

“I probably should not have referred to (the alleged victim) as ‘tragically mentally ill,’” Leavitt said on Friday. “Does she have huge swaths of facts completely wrong? Absolutely.”

Gray called Leavitt’s comments about the woman’s mental state “unforgivable.”

“These are traumatic, traumatic experiences for these people,” he said. “And we have to take these allegations seriously and follow where the evidence leads. And he’s not doing that.”

If elected, Gray said his first order of business will be to reinstate the special victims unit and return the office to a more traditional way of prosecuting sex crimes.

“That’s critical that we do that,” he said. “We need trained and experienced prosecutors focusing in on those crimes.”

KSL Investigates

Harold Clements is one of many T-Mobile customers who say they were told upon signing up for servic...

Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Roy man says mobile carrier has hiked his rate in spite of ‘price-lock’ guarantee

A Roy man is one of many T-Mobile customers who say they were told upon signing up for service that their phone rates would not go up. Ever. But when the rates did go up, Harold Clements decided to turn to KSL Investigators for help.

5 days ago

Jordan Lee says about a half-dozen medical test results suddenly have appeared on his patient accou...

Matt Gepahrdt and Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt helps Utahn billed thousands for medical tests he says he never got

When a West Point man discovered he was on the hook for charges for medical tests he never got, he decided to turn to KSL Investigators for help.

6 days ago

With Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt both convicted of child abuse and serving prison sentences, K...

Daniella Rivera

Kevin Franke calls for child welfare reform after YouTube mom sent to prison for child abuse

With Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt both convicted of child abuse and serving prison sentences, Kevin Franke is breaking his silence in an attempt to help protect other families.

6 days ago

Judge Keith Barnes addressing Mia Bailey about her charges....

Garna Mejia, KSL TV, and Daniella Rivera, KSL Investigates

New details emerge about protective order against Mia Bailey, accused of murdering her parents in St. George

KSL's Investigators have obtained exclusive new details on a protective order filed against Mia Bailey, the 28-year-old accused of murdering her parents last month in St. George.

6 days ago

FILE - Vehicles move along Interstate 76 ahead in Philadelphia, Nov. 22, 2023. The energy used by c...

Matt Gephardt

Rising costs of insurance and other travel expenses has majority of drivers reconsidering summer travel plans

It's Summer road trip time, which this year is more expensive for drivers than it has been in the past.

12 days ago

The odds are nearly one-out-of-two that a homebuyer will have at least one regret about their purch...

Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage

Half of homebuyers experience remorse. Here’s how to help avoid regrets about your new home

The odds are nearly one-out-of-two that a homebuyer will have at least one regret about their purchase, that's according to a new study by Bankrate. Gephardt finds out how you can avoid homebuyers remorse.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

young male technician is repairing a printer at office...

Les Olson

Unraveling the dilemma between leasing and buying office technology

Carefully weigh these pros and cons to make an informed decision that best suits your business growth and day-to-day operation. 

A kitchen in a modern farmhouse....

Lighting Design

A room-by-room lighting guide for your home

Bookmark this room-by-room lighting guide whenever you decide to upgrade your lighting or style a new home.

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Prosecuting sex crimes: Utah County attorney touts improvement, but current backlog unclear