Former BYU professor charged with sexually abusing a student pleads not guilty

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Former BYU professor Michael James Clay, 46, was charged in June 2020 with sexually abusing one of his students. He entered a plea of not guilty on Monday.
(Alison Fidel/BYU)

Former BYU professor Michael James Clay pleaded not guilty to one count of forcible sexual abuse and one count of sexual battery in 4th District Court in Provo on Monday, July 19. The charges involve one of his former students.

The former geography department professor was charged in June 2020 with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony. During the preliminary hearing on Monday, Judge Darold McDade changed the charges to one count of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony and one count of sexual battery, which is a Class A Misdemeanor. 

Court records show Clay made his initial court appearance on Oct. 5, 2020. Several hearings have since been scheduled, and then continued, but Monday’s hearing was the first in which Clay entered a formal plea in court to the charges against him.

During Monday’s hearing, the judge quashed a subpoena by the defense seeking to compel the alleged victim to testify in the case. The ruling came after oral arguments by Clay’s attorneys, the prosecution, BYU Police Lt. Jeff Long and the alleged victim’s attorney. The hearing was held remotely over Webex.

Lt. Long testified during the hearing about multiple exchanges between Clay and the alleged victim. Long said he became acquainted with the student when she came into the BYU Police Department in early April 2020 to make a complaint about inappropriate behavior from her professor. 

In June 2020, Lt. Long filed a letter documenting the alleged sexual abuse with the Utah County Attorney’s office after receiving a letter from Randall Spencer, the student’s attorney.

According to court documents, Clay (who reportedly has not been employed at BYU since about mid-April 2020), used his position of power as a professor in the student’s program to gain her trust. When the alleged victim approached Clay, she confided that she was having some emotional difficulties. According to court documents, Clay “said he could work on her disorders and the negative feelings and that he could be her emotional and physical support.”

The alleged victim met with Clay more than 20 times in his office. Court documents highlight one occasion where Clay had the victim sit on his lap and straddle him. The victim continued to say “that’s enough” but Clay continued and “told the victim she needed to keep trying,” according to the documents.

Lt. Long told the court he had previously worked in Orem as a sex crimes detective. He was not sure initially if there had been a crime in the case because of laws regarding privileged communication between clergy and professional counselors and their parishioners or clients. In court documents, the alleged victim said Clay acted as an mentor or therapist for her and encouraged her not to see another counselor because he claimed meeting with him was “more effective,” even though Clay was not licensed as a counselor or therapist.

Lt. Long said he initially referred the alleged victim to BYU’s Title IX Office to pursue her allegations. At a hearing earlier this year, the judge denied a subpoena by Clay’s attorneys seeking a copy of the Title IX complaint.

After news of the charges against Clay broke last year, other students came forward to share their experiences of uncomfortable and inappropriate interactions with him.

A pre-trial hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 16 at 10 a.m.

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