BYU police decertification hearing delayed

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University police cars are parked outside the Jesse Knight Building in October 2020. Judge Richard Catten has indefinitely postponed a hearing regarding the potential decertification of BYU’s police force. (Preston Crawley)

Judicial deliberations continue concerning the potential decertification of the Brigham Young University police force.

Administrative Law Judge Richard Catten indefinitely delayed a hearing scheduled for Dec. 2 as the Utah Department of Public Safety and BYU both submitted more arguments for Catten to consider. 

Background

The Utah Department of Public Safety Administration threatened to decertify University Police on two allegations. First, that former police chief Larry Stott failed to investigate alleged criminal misconduct, and second, that BYU failed to respond to a court order. BYU argued via news release that the chief asked the state to conduct an investigation and was denied and that the police released all requested information in response to the court order.

These allegations follow February 2019 claims from Utah investigators that former university officer Aaron Rhoades accessed thousands of personal files and shared at least 21 with the BYU Honor Code Office.

Catten said he favored the state in a summary judgment from Nov. 4.

“The issues regarding Lt. Aaron Rhoades have been thoroughly investigated and remediated,” the university said in a news release. They also cited a statement from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which said, “we are satisfied that the structure that allowed this to happen has been remedied.”

Newest Filings

“The undisputed facts lead to the conclusion that BYUPD attempted to avoid transparency, accountability and candor: three qualities any law enforcement agency must possess,” Utah Attorney General Lynda Viti said in the department’s newest statement. “BYUPD repeatedly refused to be accountable to anyone or anything except BYU.”

BYU attorney Sam Straight called the department’s accusations “politically motivated” and “draconian” in an argument submitted by BYU last week. Straight said Catten is promoting “erroneous findings” and “false allegations.”

“Legitimate questions must be asked about what is driving the effort to impose the most unprecedented sanction of decertification based on such thin and unreasonable grounds in denial of basic due process rights,” Straight said.

Reactions and implications

If Judge Catten rules in favor of the state, University Police will no longer have authority to investigate crimes and arrest suspects. BYU will instead operate under a security force or give campus jurisdiction to the Provo police department.

The Provo Police Department expressed support for BYU regardless of the final verdict and said they are prepared to handle additional responsibilities if needed.

“We’ve had a partnership with BYU Police for a long time and will do whatever is necessary in whatever situations arise,” Provo Police Lt. Nisha King said. “In the meantime, we support them in the process and are prepared to support in any way we can, just as we have done.”

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