BYU’s retiring Lt. Lemmon reflects on career

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BYU police Lt. Arnold Lemmon sat in a New York attorney’s office across the table from Dion O’Wyatt and his attorney. Years of investigation brought them to this moment. Lemmon was after a confession about the theft and forgery of two BYU-owned pieces of art.

Lt. Arnold Lemmon holds his copy of the forged and original Winslow Homer sketch, "The Shepherdess." Lemmon worked on retrieving over 900 missing pieces of BYU-owned art during his career. (Natalie Stoker)
Lt. Arnold Lemmon holds his copy of the forged and original Winslow Homer sketch, “The Shepherdess.” Lemmon worked on retrieving over 900 missing pieces of BYU-owned art during his career. (Natalie Stoker)

Nineteen years previously O’Wyatt, a prospective art buyer, had taken four pieces from BYU’s art collection to get them authenticated. They included a $200,000 sketch “Two Women in a Boat” by Claude Monet and a $125,000 sketch of “The Shepherdess” by Winslow Homer.

The pieces were authenticated, but O’Wyatt decided not to buy, according to Lemmon. Concern grew that several of the pieces returned were forgeries.

It wasn’t until 1986, after BYU discovered more than 900 art pieces from its collection were missing, that the forgery rumor was investigated and determined to be true.

Lemmon was assigned to the art case and worked on it exclusively for three years.

“I knew nothing about art. I knew nothing about art history,” said Lemmon. So he got help. “My mentor was detective Tom Moscardini of NYPD. He was a world renowned art cop.”

Enough time had passed between the thefts of the 900 pieces and leads from the investigation that bringing criminal charges ran up against statute of limitations laws in Utah.

One day Lemmon realized he was investigating O’Wyatt for a criminal act that extended beyond Utah’s boarders, solving the statute of limitations problem. Lemmon called O’Wyatt’s attorney and flew to New York City. Moscardini joined him so he had the support of the New York City Police Department.

“All I wanted was a confession,” said Lemmon. “So we played a little cat and mouse game.”

Lemmon said O’Wyatt, advised by his attorney, said nothing, until Lemmon mentioned he had arrest warrants from Utah the state of New York.

“I said ‘One of two things is going to happen. You can tell me how you did this, or what you did, or you are going to jail tonight,’” said Lemmon. “His attorney looked at him and said, ‘Tell the truth.’”

O’Wyatt confessed that he had hired a street artist to forge the two sketches. He returned the fakes to BYU and sold the real art. With that information Lemmon was eventually able to bring the art back home to BYU.

The art case opened up other doors for Lemmon, including the first ever internship with the Smithsonian Protective Services.

Three years was not enough time to find and bring back all 900 pieces of art. Lemmon put the art case on the back burner but continued to work on it through the rest of his career.

After 41 years of being a cop, 37 of them at BYU, Lemmon retired on July 29. Retirement brought an opportunity for Lemmon to reflect on his time at BYU.

“Most of my career has been out of norm,” said Lemmon. “I’ve been a little out of the main stream.”

Lemmon worked mostly with criminal investigations and has also been the department media spokesman.

“You get this opportunity to see someone in the lowest point in their lives. They have been destroyed physically, spiritually and emotionally,” said Lemmon. “And then you watch them rise out of the ashes.”

One such person was a girl we’ll call Sally Smith.

Lemmon and the BYU police chief were the only two in the station when the call came in about a runaway girl, a Phoenix resident, who was suspected to be hiding with her brother in on-campus housing. The two left to pick up the girl, but when Lemmon heard she had been raped an average of four times a week for the past six years by her stepfather while her mother sat by and watched, the situation took on a whole new turn.

For a year, Lemmon worked with two sex crime detectives from Phoenix, sometimes traveling to the different places Sally and her family had lived.

“We went to Las Vegas because I spoke ‘Mormonese,’ as I put it,” Lemmon said. “We interviewed bishops, stake presidents; we interviewed all kinds of people all over. We finally had the case put together.”

Lemmon said he worried about Sally. There were times where it seemed like she might commit suicide. She didn’t. A trial resulted in guilty verdicts, and both parents were sentenced to jail time. The stepfather received a 110-year sentence with no chance of parole.

Sally, who never graduated from high school, attended UVU with all expenses paid by an unknown benefactor.

Tears still come to Lemmon’s eyes as he thinks about Sally, but today they are tears of happiness.

This little girl, who had never grown an inch since age 11 because of her traumatic experiences, attended UVU with expenses paid by an unknown benefactor. Lemmon last saw her at her wedding. “She’s a giant in my eyes,” Lemmon said. “She spit in the tiger’s eyes.”

Lemmon investigated tear jerking cases like Sally’s over and over again, but he never discounted the impact of other crimes.

“It’s important when a kid gets his computer stolen and he’s got his life on it. … That’s a priority. You do everything you can do to help them,” Lemmon said.

Justice was often the reward of hard work, but difficult cases took a huge toll.

“We walked the block at 4 in the morning many a time when there was no sleep to be found,” said Ro Ann, Lemmon’s wife. “We’ve walked and we’ve talked, we’ve spent a lot of time talking through things that were tough and sometimes I tell him I wish we were both still naïve.”

Lemmon’s diligence to his job often meant staying away from his family sometimes for days, but Ro Ann has been grateful for his example. She said it was his example and his advice that protected their children from doing “stupid things.”

In 2008 Lemmon left the investigations division, in part because of the emotional toll heaped upon him by two accidental student deaths.

One involved a freshman who had only been on campus one week when what Lemmon says was an accidental death was ruled by the medical examiner as a suicide. Lemmon weighed in and the cause of death was changed to “undetermined.”

Six months later the dad met with Lemmon and went over the case during lunch. The dad left with more knowledge but a still-broken heart.

“You just do your best to get to the truth and see that justice is done in some cases,” Lemmon said. “Therein is the reward.”

“He was once criticized for being too caring. I don’t know how someone could be too caring,” said Ro Ann. “I’m proud of him.”

Ro Ann looks forward to having her husband home. The past 41 years have been long enough for her.

“Oh it’s been a great ride,” Lemmon said. “You don’t get rich being a cop, but (my wife has) never complained. Couldn’t have done it without her.”

Many police careers end in retirement after 20 years.

“Police work on this campus had been fun. It’s been gut-wrenching. It’s been extremely rewarding, and it’s time for me to leave. Forty-one years is long enough,” said Lemmon. “You don’t change the world in police work, but sometimes you are given the opportunity to maybe help one person. I have been blessed to have those opportunities quite a few times.”

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