The spokesperson for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 14, the agency that represents Utah corrections officers, said he’s shocked to hear Utah Department of Corrections executive director Mike Haddon is stepping down.
Chad Bennion said the news of Haddon’s departure was not anticipated.
Haddon, who’s served in that role since 2018, will transition into a new role as executive director of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. The move comes after Haddon has come under scrutiny for the way he’s handled the COVID-19 outbreak within the state prison’s Draper facilities.
To date, at least 3 inmates have died of COVID-19 and as many as 1,100 inmates have been infected.
“There are pressures, and justifiably so with some of these instances,” Bennion said. “Things could have been handled differently.”
Bennion said in 20 years with the FOP, he has not seen officer morale as low as it currently is.
He’s probably been in the most difficult situation of any director over the last two decades dealing with the preparations for the prison move and for the pandemic outbreak,” he said.
Families with loved ones inside the prison say the move is overdue.
“I believe he is a compassionate person, but when you are the very top, there is nowhere else to point the finger of blame,” Paige Norton said.
Bound by love, not by blood, Norton considers two of the inmates inside the prison to be family. She first met Fonua Kimoana and Pailate “Pate” Lomu in July of 2019. Kimoana was convicted of murder, and Lomu convicted of manslaughter. Norton believes both men are innocent.
She and her family had been visiting Kimoana and Lomu regularly until the pandemic hit.
“You’re concerned for their wellbeing,” Norton said.
She receives calls a couple times a week from the inmates and is concerned about the conditions inside the prison.
“Both of my brothers have now had it. They both had COVID. One was very, very sick. I didn’t find out until after the fact,” Norton said.
She said she blames prison conditions on Haddon’s leadership and said the way the outbreak is being handled is unacceptable.
“My brother that had it the worst, he was never treated. He never received any care. He was never sent to the infirmary,” Norton said.
She believes the UDOC has not been transparent when it comes to how the coronavirus is impacting the prison.
“Not only is there no transparency, there isn’t honesty,” Norton said. “When they had that press conference after the cop came forward and said, ‘it’s hell on earth,’ I was nervous and asked [Kimoana and Lomu] is it really that bad? They said, ‘oh it absolutely is.’”
Norton said she hopes with Haddon’s departure, there are changes made within the prison.
“I am certain [Haddon’s] done the very best he knows how. Do I think it’s been good enough? No.”
Bennion said he believes Haddon has been fair and has always worked with the FOP to reach solutions for officers.
“We are very concerned about who is going to succeed him,” Bennion said.
The Fraternal Order of Police is working to address issues like lack of funding, officer retention, and morale with the prison. Bennion said he hopes whoever takes over Haddon’s role will work with them to improve the current environment.