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University Of Utah Students Frustrated With Lack Of Transparency As Police Chief Goes On Leave

Photo of Rodney Chatman sitting at a table in a police uniform.
Courtesy of the University of Utah
University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman took over the department in January, and many were hopeful he’d help address campus safety concerns and rebuild student trust in the wake of Lauren McCluskey’s murder.

University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman has been placed on administrative leave, according to the school’s communications director Chris Nelson.

Chatman was hired in January, taking over the department as it faced criticism for its handling of the on-campus murder of 21-year-old student athlete Lauren McCluskey in October 2018.

While university officials initially did not offer details about the reasons behind Chatman’s leave, the U’s Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch sent a statement late Friday evening which said it was because Chatman was being investigated by the Utah State Attorney General’s Office on allegations Chatman “may have violated certain guidelines that are also criminal offenses.”

“While I appreciate the important work Rodney has done on behalf of university safety over the past year, I cannot overlook these allegations and the impact they might have on his ability to maintain an active Utah POST [Peace Officer Standards and Training] certification,” the statement said. “Hence, I made the decision to place Rodney on leave and have asked deputy chief Jason Hinojosa to oversee day-to-day operations of the police until this matter is resolved.”

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Chatman’s attorney, Kay McConkie, said the AG’s investigation is related to Chatman’s own investigation into a former university police officer who shared explicit photos of McCluskey with other officers. McConkie said University administrators could face legal challenges related to a report released on the issue and were attempting to force Chatman out as a scapegoat.

Nelson said Saturday he was not aware of the U facing a potential charge around the report nor a connection between it and Chatman’s leave.

He deferred to the AG’s office for more details on the “guidelines” Chatman may have violated, but a spokesman with the office said Friday he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Nelson added the AG’s investigation, once completed, should help clear up the record.

Devon Cantwell, a U student and organizer with the student-run campus safety advocacy group UnsafeU, said her biggest concern is the lack of transparency around the issue.

UnsafeU had initially been hopeful about Chatman’s hiring, and gave him a four out of five-star rating when he visited the campus last year with two other potential candidates. It called his position “arguably one of the most critical roles in reestablishing student trust and transforming the culture of the University of Utah Police Department.”

But she said the public only found out about Chatman’s leave after local news outlets first reported it Thursday evening.

“We've mentioned to the administration over and over in meetings the absolute necessity of looping the campus community in early on things like this,” she said. “The university doesn't seem to care about students’ input and they don't seem to be making any serious moves towards transparency. I think at this point, this is just showing that the university can't be trusted to manage its own police department.”

Cantwell said she ultimately wants to see the university’s police department disbanded.

University policy requires a police presence on campus, but until that changes, she said she’d rather see the Salt Lake City Police Department step in. SLCPD has better resources to investigate intimate partner violence and sexual assault, she said. It’s also one of the few police departments in the country that has cleared its backlog of rape kits.

But to really address safety on campus, she said the university needs to look more comprehensively at the root causes of campus violence.

“Unfortunately, [to have] real meaningful generational impact is going to take work,” she said. “And that's what we're really looking at here. We're not going to get there in a year.”

Updated: December 20, 2020 at 1:15 PM MST
This story was updated to reflect a statement by University of Utah Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch released Friday evening.
Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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