POLICE

University of Utah police chief says school ‘scapegoated’ him in wake of McCluskey case

Jun 17, 2021, 10:10 AM | Updated: 10:14 am
university of utah police chief rodney chatman placed on leave Police chief mccluskey...
PHOTO: Rodney Chatman, credit University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah police chief who took over the embattled department in the wake of Lauren McCluskey’s murder says he faced reprisal from his employer for seeking to inform students and employees about missteps in the case.

Rodney Chatman alleges the school also retaliated against him for raising concerns that it was violating federal requirements for reporting sexual assaults, according to a notice of claim obtained by KSL.com via a public records request.

Chatman contends he was trying to make changes he’d been hired to bring about, but says administrators reacted to his attempts at transparency and change by threatening his job and suggesting misconduct on his part.

He’s seeking damages of at least $10 million, according to the notice dated April 27 and sent to the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which represents the university in civil cases.

“The university leaders have scapegoated Chief Chatman by outrageously and falsely insinuating that he had committed bad acts in violation of public policy when he attempted to alert them to possible violations of the law,” states the legal notice, the first step toward filing a lawsuit.

Attorney Kathleen McConkie said Tuesday she’s preparing a suit on behalf of her client and declined to give details on settlement discussions.

“We’d be happy if the university wanted to negotiate, but at this point, we’re pretty far apart,” McConkie said Tuesday. University spokesman Chris Nelson declined to comment.

Chatman has been on administrative leave from the university since December and is a finalist for the top public safety job at Kansas University.

In addition to the whistleblower claim, he is asserting contract violations, defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress that caused him “mental anguish” and shame.

Chatman says he ordered a new probe in McCluskey’s death after finding a previous review “whitewashed” the officers’ actions.

The new investigation concluded that former officer Miguel Deras shared explicit photos of student Lauren McCluskey with other officers before she was murdered on campus in 2018. McCluskey, a 21-year-old track athlete and communications major, was shot and killed by a man she’d reported to university police, telling them he sought to extort her after she broke off their relationship.

The report led to the firing of two campus officers, and a supervisor quit. It also resulted in Deras’ firing from his new job at the Logan Police Department.

Chatman alleges an attorney who has long represented police raised criminal allegations against him in retaliation for the review, filing a complaint with the attorney general’s office just a day after the officer’s firing in August. An attorney for the prominent police union in Utah disputes the allegation.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges against Chatman in response to the allegations that he improperly wore a badge and gun before being certified as a law enforcement officer in the state. District Attorney Sim Gill cited insufficient evidence to support the misdemeanor offense of impersonating an officer, concluding Chatman didn’t intend to deceive anyone.

Attorney Jeremy Jones lodged the complaint that launched the investigation, and did so on behalf of the Utah chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, he told KSL.com. Jones said the complaint’s main allegation was that the university improperly released disciplinary reports tied to the investigation Chatman had ordered, while the badge and gun allegations were secondary.

Jones said his client wasn’t seeking to punish Chatman, whose experience is similar to those of the fired officers in that it reflects the university’s attempts to deflect from issues at the top levels of administration.

“I think what both sides can agree on is that the University of Utah can’t seem to do right by anybody,” Jones said Wednesday.

The state investigation included 17 interviews, including several with current and former employees of the university and its police department. Some of those who spoke with investigators — many whose names were redacted from the report — reported seeing Chatman openly carry a gun at times and conceal his weapon at other times.

Marlon Lynch, the university’s former chief of public safety, told investigators he had seen Chatman wearing a badge, and recounted Chatman saying he had carried a gun while at the police station for three or four days because “he was in fear for his life” after the firing of university officers whom Chatman described as known to carry guns.

The university placed Chatman on paid administrative leave last year and gave him three weeks to consider resigning. During that time, Chatman points out Lynch, then-U. chief of public safety, said “Rodney may have violated certain guidelines that are also criminal offenses,” among other statements Chatman alleges were false and hurt his reputation.

He’d lobbied his supervisor to hold a “debriefing” with students, faculty and staff members on the mistakes made during the McCluskey case, the letter says.

Almost immediately after that, he alleges, he was told his employment in the position would “terminate” and the university asked him to withdraw his application for certification through Utah’s police academy, although he’d already gotten the credential. Chatman also alleges the university changed his title from chief to director and kept it that way after he was certified as a Utah law enforcement officer.

Chatman had also repeatedly warned that the university was at risk of being audited for possible violations of federal campus crime reporting and gender discrimination requirements that could expose the school to fines and negative publicity if proven to be true, his letter states. But the university “rebuffed both requests,” the letter says.


Parents of Lauren McCluskey end lawsuit following settlement payment

University of Utah police chief on leave, deputy chief to assume duties

Aftermath of Lauren McCluskey murder sparks bill on revenge porn

Lauren McCluskey Memorial Walk brings attention to domestic violence

Today’s Top Stories

Police

Ogden police car...
Mark Jones

Ogden-Weber Technical College evacuated due to bomb threat; no bomb found

Weber County emergency personnel responded to the Ogden-Weber Technical College Wednesday afternoon for a report of bomb threat. After a search of the campus, no device was found.
24 hours ago
south jordan police...
Mark Jones

Two children hurt in auto-pedestrian collision in South Jordan

South Jordan police say two children are in critical condition after a auto-pedestrian collision Wednesday. Both children were taken to Primary Children's Hospital.
24 hours ago
The family of Zane James reacts to settlement with Cottonwood Heights city....
Mark Jackson

Family of Zane James speaks out after settlement reached with Cottonwood Heights

The family of Zane James, who died after a police altercation in 2018, reached a settlement with the city of Cottonwood Heights over the death.
24 hours ago
A German Shepard lays on the ground...
Mark Jones

Dog dies after being left in hot car for more than an hour

A dog died Tuesday after being left in a hot car for more than an hour, according to Salt Lake County Animal Services.
2 days ago
A house in Spanish Fork was on fire late Monday night....
Mark Jones

Spanish Fork house catches fire after fireworks not properly extinguished

Officials said a house fire in Spanish Fork was a result of recently used fireworks not being disposed of properly. No serious injuries were reported.
2 days ago
Utah Highway Patrol stopped 4,937 vehicles over the Fourth of July weekend....
Mark Jones

Busy Fourth of July weekend for Utah Highway Patrol

In statistics released Tuesday, the Utah Highway Patrol says its Troopers made contact with 4,937 drivers over the Fourth of July weekend, making it a busy one.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
University of Utah police chief says school ‘scapegoated’ him in wake of McCluskey case