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Utah pushes for decertification of BYU PD

Posted at 3:17 PM, Oct 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-26 17:17:53-04

SANDY, Utah  — Brigham Young University is asking an administrative law judge to dismiss disciplinary proceedings against its police force.

During a hearing on Monday, the private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked for summary judgment. Meanwhile, Utah's Peace Officer Standards & Training wants to proceed with decertifying the police force in part for its handling of public records requests involving how it investigated sexual assault victims and passed information on to BYU's Honor Code Office.

"We have a police department that doesn’t act like a police department, that says it’s going to be subject to GRAMA [Government Records Access Management Act] except when it doesn’t want to be, doesn’t respond to subpoenas, doesn’t respond with honesty and candor to subpoenas that are issued by POST," said assistant Utah Attorney General Michael Hansen, representing Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson.

But BYU argued that any action should be taken against individuals — not the department as a whole.

"They provide their own remedies for individual discipline, but don’t provide a ground for decertification," said BYU attorney Jim Jardine.

The action by POST is unprecedented. It is the first time the agency that certifies and disciplines all cops in Utah has pressed to get rid of an entire police force (POST previously threatened to take action against the Colorado City Town Marshal's Office over accusations its officers were loyal to polygamist leader Warren Jeffs).

"Before you get to the 'what if' question, you’ve got to decide the authority question," Jardine said.

Judge Richard Catten acknowledged this was an unusual hearing. He adjourned promising a decision within the next couple of weeks.

The case stems from reporting by The Salt Lake Tribune over people who reported being the victims of sex crimes finding themselves under investigation for potentially violating BYU's Honor Code. The Tribune's reporting on the issue prompted changes at BYU and won the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize in 2017.

Since then, news media outlets including The Tribune and FOX 13 (who have a news sharing agreement) have sought to have access to police records. The university has argued that as a private school, it's not subject to public records despite having its officers certified. The law changed in 2019 to make them subject to GRAMA.

The Utah Supreme Court recently ruled that going forward, BYU is subject to GRAMA. However, the Court left it to lower courts whether they were to comply retroactively.