BYU responds to police decertification decision

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BYU issued a response to the state on March 22 regarding University Police’s decertification, claiming the Department of Public Safety’s decision violates the university’s due process.

The 29-page response, addressed to Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess L. Anderson, acts as a response to Anderson’s Feb. 20 letter to President Kevin J. Worthen that announced the Department of Public Saftey’s intentions to decertify the university’s police force.

Anderson cited failure to conduct an internal investigation into former University Police Lieutenant Aaron Rhoades and failure to comply with Government Records and Management Act requests — two claims BYU challenges as false. The university also claims Anderson’s notice does not have “any basis in law or fact” and should be withdrawn.

The response states an independent investigation into alleged criminal misconduct by Rhoades — who was accused to turning over police reports to BYU’s Honor Code Office — was carried out by then-Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires and the State Bureau of Investigation in May 2016.

The statement claims that although the investigation was carried out, a secrecy order sought by the SBI prevented former BYU police chief Larry Stott and others in the department from disclosing the investigation’s existence — including to the Peace Officer Standards and Training division, which issued subpoenas to University Police during a June 2018 investigation into Rhoades’ conduct.

According to the statement, Stott still carried out a private internal investigation through BYU’s legal counsel.

“In light of the ongoing criminal investigation and the Secrecy Orders, Chief Stott could not conduct anything other than a privileged investigation through BYU’s lawyers, which the court authorized,” the statement reads.

BYU also noted in their response that despite being accused of violating GRAMA criminal statutes (a Class B misdemeanor), the university and Rhoades took the position Rhoades didn’t break any laws because the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service and the State Records Committee had previously ruled that GRAMA did not apply to the university.

“Because all of the relevant state agencies had said that GRAMA did not apply to BYU or University Police, Lt. Rhoades could not have acted “knowing” that his disclosure or use was prohibited by GRAMA,” the statement says.

Following the two-year SBI investigation, the secrecy order was lifted and the Utah Office of the Attorney General chose not to prosecute Rhoades. BYU confirms Rhoades later faced internal disciplinary action and opted to surrender his POST certification. Rhoades’ last day as a university police officer was Sept. 30, 2018, the statement says.

BYU also states the university has never “changed its position” on whether or not University Police should be subject to GRAMA. However, the university claims it has a longstanding policy of responding to public records requests. BYU also claims its practice of denying requests that “seek disclosure of private or protected records” is no different than any other university’s.

The university claims it complied with “numerous” subpoenas issued by the Department of Public Safety and accuses Anderson of acting outside the scope of his authority by violating BYU’s due process and “unlawfully” treating BYU’s University Police differently from other university law enforcement agencies.

This statement refers to the fact that Anderson sent his notice of decertification despite a pending appeal to the Utah Supreme Court over a ruling that the University was subject to public records laws.

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