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Judge could rule soon on whether to decertify BYU's police force

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Posted at 3:19 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 17:19:03-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge could rule soon on whether to decertify Brigham Young University's police force.

Administrative Law Judge Richard Catten has delayed a scheduled hearing this week as both BYU and Utah's Department of Public Safety submitted additional papers to persuade him of their arguments. The judge has previously suggested he is in favor of decertifying BYU PD.

Utah DPS is asking the judge to decertify the police force over accusations that a BYU PD lieutenant improperly accessed law enforcement databases and reported students to the private university's Honor Code Office. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, requires students to adhere to a set of standards including no premarital sex, no drinking or drug use. Students can be disciplined for violating the Honor Code.

DPS has argued that BYU failed to conduct an internal investigation into the conduct and didn't cooperate adequately with its investigation.

In its own filing, BYU attorney Sam Straight criticized the judge's earlier announcement, saying it "selectively ignores the relevant, undisputed, and deemed admitted facts in this case; proposes clearly erroneous findings, including false allegations against BYU Police and its officers; improperly advocates for DPS by making arguments that DPS has never made..."

"Moreover, legitimate questions must be asked about what is driving the effort by DPS to impose the most draconian and unprecedented sanction of decertification based on such thin and unreasonable grounds in denial of basic due process rights," Straight wrote.

"If this case goes to trial, BYU will establish that the effort to decertify BYU Police is and always has been pretextual and politically motivated, as reflected in DPS’s effort to ignore the undisputed facts and to make up laws that don’t exist. The drastic remedy of decertification in this case would be inappropriate and excessive even if DPS’s allegation were true; that DPS is seeking to impose this drastic remedy when the allegations are not true is appalling and wrong."

In a response, assistant Utah Attorney General Lynda Viti (representing DPS) said the judge got it right. She argued that the state certifies all police officers in Utah and that includes those on the private BYU PD force.

"The undisputed facts lead to the conclusion that BYUPD attempted to avoid transparency, accountability, and candor: three qualities any law enforcement agency with the power and authority to arrest citizens throughout the State of Utah must possess in order to maintain public trust," Viti wrote.

"If the Commissioner did not take action to decertify BYUPD in the face of these facts, it would suggest that BYUPD is free to operate, unlike other law enforcement agencies throughout the State, with impunity and under a shroud of secrecy without fear of repercussions. Utah law gives law enforcement agencies of private colleges or universities, certified by the Commissioner, the same legal authority as any other Utah law enforcement agency. The law requires that these law enforcement agencies be held to the same standards as any other Utah law enforcement agency. The undisputed facts show that BYUPD repeatedly refused to be accountable to anyone or anything except BYU and engaged in a pattern of deception when confronted with its failures."