The clock is ticking for the Brigham Young University Police Department, which was decertified by the state of Utah as of Feb. 20.
The department will stay in operation until Sept. 1, during which time they plan to appeal the decision; but if that appeal doesn’t pass, the entire department will be shut down.
This is the first time in the history of the state of Utah that an entire police department has ever been decertified.
So what is going on at BYU? What’s happened that the state would call for an entire police department to be shut down?
Officially, this scandal centers around the misconduct of a single officer named Lt. Aaron Rhoades, who has been accused of sharing private police information on sexual assault victims with departments at BYU, including the office of the school’s Honor Code.
Rhoades, however, has already given up his badge and stepped down. However, KSL has learned that part of the story may be just a small part of the whole – a thread in the wick of a powderkeg that’s been burning since at least 2015.
Madi Barney and the Honor Code
To really understand the scandal happening at Brigham Young University today, we have to go back to the story of Madi Barney, a young girl who was kicked out of BYU in 2015 after she was sexually assaulted.
Barney alleges that she was raped by Nasiru Seidu, a 41-year-old man who she says lied to her about his age and his marital status to start a relationship with her. When Seidu tried to initiate sex, Barney says she told him “no”; Seidu, however, allegedly forced himself upon her, raping her while she begged him to stop.
Barney reported the rape to the Provo Police Department. They helped her record a confession from Seidu, who, unaware he was being recorded, told Barney: “You said I raped you. I did, and I want you to forgive me.”
Seidu’s confession seemed like the end to a dark period in her life – but what Barney didn’t know was that her nightmare was just beginning.
Shortly after, she says received a call from the university’s Title IX office. She had never reported the rape to them, but when they called they revealed that they had gotten ahold of her police report.
“Instead of … contacting me and being like, ‘Oh, my gosh. What can we do for you?’ They just said, ‘We’re going to have to turn you over to the Honor Code office,'” Barney told KSL in 2016.
Specifically, the BYU Honor Code forbids visitors of the opposite sex from entering a student’s bedroom. Just by letting Seidu enter her room, Barney had broken the code.
Days after being raped by someone she thought she could trust, Barney says she was kicked out of school.
The BYU PD officer who shared her police report
None of that would have happened, Barney would later learn, if it hadn’t been for a Utah County Sheriff’s Office Deputy named Edwin Randolph and BYU PD officer Lt. Rhoades.
Randolph, after finding out about Barney’s sexual assault case, contacted Brigham Young University and told them what had happened. He was later charged with retaliation against a victim, which is a third-degree felony. Court documents say he was accused of turning the police report over to BYU “(knowing) that the victim in the case could receive disciplinary action based on the information contained within (it).”
Court documents said Randolph was a friend of Seidu at the time.
The Utah Department of Public Safety released documents in late February, two days after the announcement that the BYU Police Department was being decertified, show Lt. Aaron Rhoades “accessed private, protected or controlled police reports from the Orem City Police Department, the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, and the Provo City Police Department” between August 2014 and June 2016. The investigation by the Peace Officer Standards and Training investigations bureau – or POST – found Rhoades then passed information from those police reports on to BYU’s Dean of Students Office, Title IX Office, and Honor Code Office.
Barney believes none of this was done with her best interest in mind. BYU didn’t use the details of the case to make sure she was okay; instead, Barney says, they just used the information to bar her from attending any more classes at their school.
Sharing a sexual victim’s private police records with a private university’s disciplinary committee, likewise, is not standard procedure. The Department of Public Safety investigative report on the case would ultimately rule that Rhoades, in sharing police records with the university, had committed a Class-B misdemeanor.
Barney was devastated to find out how these officers had betrayed her trust.
“I felt so angry,” Barney told CNN after she found out. “I mean, here she had an over-20-page police report with every little detail of the rape… I feel almost as violated by the school as I do by my rapist.”
BYU’s sexual assault survivors speak out
Madi Barney’s story sparked a movement. After she went public with what had happened to her, other BYU students followed her lead, sharing the stories of their sexual assaults and how the campus’s honor code had punished them for being abused.
“They treated me in such an un-Christlike way, like I was some sinner,” a BYU student named Brooke told the New York Times, relaying the story of how she’d been suspended from the school after reporting a sexual assault in 2014. “There was no forgiveness and mercy.”
However, it soon became clear that many sexual assault victims at BYU, unlike Brooke and Barney, hadn’t even risked reporting what had happened to them, because they were afraid of how the Honor Code Office would treat them.
A BYU study, conducted in the wake of Barney’s case, revealed that 64 percent of BYU students who had experienced unwanted sexual conduct did not report it.
Of those who had, only 2 percent had reported it to either the BYU PD or to the Honor Code. Most had avoided talking to the police altogether; instead, the overwhelming majority – 72 percent – had turned to religious leaders: either their Bishop, their Stake President, or their Mission President.
When asked why they hadn’t told the BYU PD or the Honor Code what had happened to them, 17 percent of the respondents said they thought they would be blamed. 14 percent said they worried it wouldn’t be kept confidential. And another 21 percent of the people surveyed specifically said that didn’t report their sexual assault because they were afraid that they would be disciplined by the Honor Code.
Barney’s story received national attention. She used her platform to call on Brigham Young University to change its policies, sending out a petition asking that they make an exception to their Honor Code policies for sexual assault victims. More than 100,000 people signed her petition.
It made a difference. In October 2016, BYU announced that they would physically separate their Title IX department from the Honor Code Office and start a push to offer leniency to sexual assault survivors.
Thousands of records requests just like Barney’s
On Nov. 15, 2018, Lt. Rhoades handed in his badge.
However, from the perspective of the Department of Public Safety, that was not the end of the story.
As long as two years ago, the Utah County Sheriff raised concerns about how many times BYU police searched for and accessed other departments’ police reports, asking the state’s Department of Public Safety to conduct an audit.
The Department of Public Safety requested that the campus police share their records so that they could thoroughly investigate whether they were sharing police records on sexual assault victims with the BYU Honor Code Office. Their request didn’t mince words.
“As DPS Commissioner, I expect BYU PD to be subject to and comply with the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), Title 63G, Chapter 2 of the Utah Code,” Commissioner Jess L. Anderson wrote.
“Do not destroy, tamper with, conceal, or alter any records, documents, recordings, email, text messages, or electronic data; interfere with or prevent anyone from fully and truthfully complying with DPS’s requests; or engage in any other conduct that may hinder this investigation.”
Apparently, the BYU PD didn’t comply; or, at least, they certainly weren’t as helpful as the DPS had hoped. On Feb. 20, 2019, the Department of Public Safety decertified the BYU PD.
In the letter, they stated that the BYU PD still had not cooperated in their investigation.
According to Civil Rights Attorney Jim McKonkie, that’s a strong sign that Lt. Rhoades might not have been the only person sharing records with the Honor Code Office.
“If they decertify,” he told KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic, “we can assume that it’s a problem that went further than one officer over a period of two years.”
More to the story
Hear what McKonkie had to say – and how Dave and Debbie reacted – on Dave & Dujanovic.
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