Judge Rules Against Decertifying BYU Police Department

Jan 5, 2021, 9:49 PM | Updated: 9:52 pm
Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News...
FILE PHOTO (Steve Griffin/Deseret News)
(Steve Griffin/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A judge has ruled that Brigham Young University’s police department will keep its certification.

Administrative Law Judge Richard Catten issued his ruling Tuesday, granting BYU police’s motion to dismiss the case. However, Catten also sided with the Utah Department of Public Safety on several specific legal issues.

The issue between DPS and BYU police goes back three years, following allegations that BYU officers used police databases to find information that was given to the Honor Code Office.

In a letter sent to the university, DPS Commissioner Jess L. Anderson informed BYU their police force would be decertified on Sept. 1, 2019, due to the lack of an internal investigation into the incident.

However, Catten said “that expectation is not supported” in current state law language, “which just requires an ‘investigation.'”

“Because BYUPD caused an investigation that meets the requirements of Utah Code § 53-6-211(6) and responded to the investigative subpoena, BYUPD has not violated its certification criteria and its certification is not subject to revocation by the commissioner on that ground.”

Anderson called Catten’s ruling “disappointing.”

“Decertification was the right course of action to protect the integrity of law enforcement. Non-compliance with POST investigations erodes all integrity,” Anderson said. “Despite a ruling against my administrative action, it can still result in an important change for the BYU community. The department’s errors of the past have been disclosed and appropriate parties have an opportunity to correct them. I now look forward to working with BYUPD to establish appropriate policy and expectations. We expect all law enforcement agencies, including private police organizations with law enforcement authority, like BYUPD, to hold themselves accountable and to abide by the same standards.”

Anderson also said they would take the next 30 days to consider appealing Catten’s decision. He added state lawmakers should work to clarify Utah’s law.

In his ruling, Catten sided with the DPS, saying, “A private college or university law enforcement agency is required to comply with the investigation and referral obligations set forth in Utah” state law.

But he added BYU “performed its duties” under current law and was “in compliance with the certification requirements” after requesting an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigations.

“Judge Catten’s decision emphasizes and brings to light the lack of statutory clarity and guidance for decertifying a private college or university police force,” Anderson said. “It would be appropriate for the Utah Legislature to revisit the relevant statutes and provide additional guidance about these processes.”

Catten also ruled both parties were “unfairly affected” by inadequacies in current state laws.

“The biggest single cause of the conflict between BYUPD and UDPS is the startling lack of guidance from the statutes and rules that govern the certification of BYUPD, the process by which any law enforcement agency is required to refer allegations to POST, and the lack of a clear process for objections to an administrative investigative subpoena or the non-criminal enforcement of such a subpoena,” Catten said. “The statutes and rules that are in place which govern BYUPD’s certification are piecemeal and it requires a substantial amount of statutory interpretation to determine how they work together.”

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Judge Rules Against Decertifying BYU Police Department