U of U police chief remains on leave; Atty for former officer fired blasts University for ‘hypocrisy,’ ‘mismanagement’

U of U Police Chief Rodney Chatman has been put on leave. Photos: (U) Wikimedia Commons/Daderot: (Chatman) University of Utah

For an updated story, click here.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Dec. 18, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — University of Utah officials are remaining mum after it was learned that their police chief, Rodney Chatman, was placed on leave. But an attorney for a previous U of U officer — fired after alleged wrongdoing in the Lauren McCluskey murder case — has plenty to say.

“I can confirm Rodney Chatman is on leave,” U of U Communications Director Chris Nelson told Gephardt Daily on Thursday night. “Day-to-day operations of University Police are being managed by Deputy Chief Jason Hinojosa.”

Nelson said he could not provide further comment as it involved a personnel matter.

Since Thursday night, several governmental agencies have confirmed Chatman is under investigation, but declined to provide more information.

Attorney Jeremy Jones represented Miguel Deras, the former U of U police officer who was fired after being accused of improperly sharing intimate, evidentiary photos of slain student Lauren McCluskey.

Deras maintained he did nothing wrong, although an investigation by Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill’s office determined his actions, while not illegal, were “reckless.”

McCluskey’s parents recently settled a $13.5 million lawsuit against the University for its alleged mishandling of their daughter’s case, both before and after her murder.

Jones has raised questions about the status of Chatman’s Peace Officer Standards and Training certification at the time of his hiring.

Family of murdered U of U student settles lawsuits
Student Lauren McCluskey was killed in a shooting on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. Photo: University of Utah/Steve C. Wilson

Chatman was originally hired to replace former University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy, who retired in October 2019 in the aftermath of McCluskey’s murder. Chatman took the helm in February 2020, coming to Utah from the University of Dayton, where he was executive director of public safety and chief of police.

Chatman had previously served as a police officer and then captain at the University of Cincinnati, where he supervised a staff of nearly one hundred officers, along with security and emergency communications personnel.

Jones released a statement on Thursday night.

“Last night, my office began receiving media inquiries about why Chief Rodney Chatman had been placed on leave by the University of Utah. It was reported that the University of Utah declined to comment because ‘it was a personnel matter.’

“This press release is being issued in response to the hypocrisy exhibited by the University of Utah. This is the same entity that publicly pilloried a number of its former officers (and the department as a whole) in relation to the Lauren McCluskey case. In that instance, when it was expedient to protect the University’s image, it was happy to speak publicly about the allegations, call for an ‘independent’ investigation, and to publicly release the fruits of that investigation,” the statement says in part.

It is unsettling that the University would call for transparency and publicly reinforce a false narrative relative to allegations against its line officers, but remain so tight-lipped regarding allegations concerning its chief of police. If anything, the burden of transparency should be heavier when those in positions of power are involved. It is unconscionable that the University would brand its line officers with a Scarlet Letter yet refrain from commenting about its chief. Such a double standard should not exist.”

Jones said his office is aware of “allegations that Mr. Chatman undertook the role of Chief of Police at the University of Utah without having first been certified as a peace officer in Utah, as is required by state law.

“It is also worth noting that the University of Utah has a policy that requires all its officers to be Utah POST certified. Based on the information available to us, it appears that the University was informed that the lack of Utah certification was a problem and was told why it mattered but chose not to act.

“Without fulfilling his legal obligation to become certified, Mr. Chatman wore a uniform, a
badge, and carried a gun on campus. He also undertook several acts as the “Chief of Police,” not the least of which was ordering disciplinary investigations and undertaking adverse personnel actions against line officers.”

“Such conduct is questionable under the circumstances (as we understand them) and may also constitute impersonation of a police officer in violation of Utah law.

“To be fair, my office has heard that Mr. Chatman has since applied for POST certification. That does not change the fact that he undertook action as the Chief of Police for a number of months without being certified.”

● ● ●

Jones’ statement includes references to other cases and topics. The full letter can be read below:

Last night, my office began receiving media inquiries about why Chief Rodney Chatman had been placed on leave by the University of Utah. It was reported that the University of Utah declined to comment because “it was a personnel matter.”

This press release is being issued in response to the hypocrisy exhibited by the University of Utah. This is the same entity that publicly pilloried a number of its former officers (and the department as a whole) in relation to the Lauren McCluskey case. In that instance, when it was expedient to protect the University’s image, it was happy to speak publicly about the allegations, call for an “independent” investigation, and to publicly release the fruits of that investigation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the University latched onto narrow aspects of that report that ostensibly blamed officers, despite substantial evidence elsewhere in the report indicating that such conclusions were unwarranted. Indeed, the University made sure not to redact the officer’s name at the center of that investigation, despite GRAMA’s requirement that agencies protect disciplinary records of both past and present governmental employees.

It is unsettling that the University would call for transparency and publicly reinforce a false narrative relative to allegations against its line officers, but remain so tight-lipped regarding allegations concerning its chief of police. If anything, the burden of transparency should be heavier when those in positions of power are involved. It is unconscionable that the University would brand its line officers with a Scarlet Letter yet refrain from commenting about its chief. Such a double standard should not exist. Governmental actors have a statutory obligation to protect the privacy rights of their employees.

My office does not know why Mr. Chatman was placed on leave by the University. However, we are aware of allegations that Mr. Chatman undertook the role of Chief of Police at the University of Utah without having first been certified as a peace officer in Utah, as is required by state law. It is also worth noting that the University of Utah has a policy that requires all its officers to be Utah POST certified. Based on the information available to us, it appears that the University was informed that the lack of Utah certification was a problem and was told why it mattered but chose not to act.

Without fulfilling his legal obligation to become certified, Mr. Chatman wore a uniform, a badge, and carried a gun on campus. He also undertook several acts as the “Chief of Police,” not the least of which was ordering disciplinary investigations and undertaking adverse personnel actions against line officers. He also issued a number of public press releases announcing policies and actions taken as the chief of police. Such conduct is questionable under the circumstances (as we understand them) and may also constitute impersonation of a police officer in violation of Utah law.

To be fair, my office has heard that Mr. Chatman has since applied for POST certification. That does not change the fact that he undertook action as the Chief of Police for a number of months without being certified. Indeed, the very same DPS report used to drag Miguel Deras’ name through the mud was used by Mr. Chatman and the University to advance disciplinary allegations against a number of officers. It appears Mr. Chatman both ordered the disciplinary investigation, and sought to remove officers as a result of that investigation, when he was not legally permitted to act as an officer, let alone a chief of police.

To be clear: the University was aware of this lack of authority for some time but still proceeded to terminate officers under the auspices of Mr. Chatman’s authority. My office suspects that the University has since recognized that this problem would be made public and has placed Mr. Chatman on leave in an attempt to save face.

This is unfortunate for Mr. Chatman, who now appears to be suffering the same fate visited upon those before him. As others may recall, the University was not shy about placing its former deputy chief, Rick McLenon, on administrative leave. If memory serves, the University used Mr. Chatman to make the point that the leave was imposed because of concerns about the prior investigation into the handling of the Lauren McCluskey matter.

In addition, the University of Utah has recently changed its personnel policy to eviscerate officer protections and make it easier to terminate police department employees. These protections matter because they would have permitted officers a meaningful chance to challenge the action and expose the corruption at issue here. Instead of having a fair shot, these officers were subjected to sham administrative proceedings that withheld evidence, ignored valid legal objections, and now purport to be non-appealable. The continued double standard of enhanced protections for the powerful and corrupt, while the lowest level employees are abandoned, cannot be tolerated.

The government already wields enormous power over individuals, and process protections are the mechanism by which we retain our rights as citizens. These protections are also the primary means by which we can expose bad actors. Instead of honoring those principles, the University has done everything in its power to protect its image at the expense of its police officers. It should not surprise anyone that the next sacrifice appears to be Mr. Chatman.

As evidenced by the recent exodus of highly qualified officers, there is a crisis within the
University of Utah Police Department. Contrary to the University’s narrative, these problems have nothing to do with line officers. Those officers have worked tirelessly and diligently, often to their detriment, to protect and serve the campus community. As thanks, the University has publicly trashed them, failed to deliver on promised raises, and removed officer personnel protections. The real problem, and source of years of mismanagement, is clear: University administration.

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