The police chief at Utah State University has resigned in the face of intense scrutiny for comments he made about sexual assault to the football team that became public this week.
Chief Earl Morris’ decision came Thursday morning, the school confirmed. He had been placed on administrative leave the day before, while USU said it was investigating the “reprehensible and unacceptable” comments.
“The leader of the university’s police department must have the trust of the campus community,” USU had said in a news release posted online Wednesday night.
Morris had warned football players that LDS women “may have sex with you,” but then tell their religious leaders that it was nonconsensual, according to a recording obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune. The women might be “feeling regret” for having sex before marriage, which goes against the faith’s teachings of abstinence, so they’ll say it was assault, Morris continued.
The recording was also described in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against the school by student Kaytriauna Flint.
The university’s board of trustees held an emergency meeting Wednesday evening. Board members immediately went into a closed session, with Chair Kent Alder saying: “This is an issue dealing with personnel.”
They talked for more than two hours before returning to an open session, where they adjourned without a discussion or vote.
Public records show the chief’s annual salary was $123,000.
The police chief’s comments on the recording, the school said in the news release, “are not consistent with the university’s values or the trainings provided on sexual misconduct at Utah State, nor do they reflect USU’s efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and reduce barriers to reporting.
“Students and employees should feel confident that when they report sexual misconduct, the university will respond without bias.”
The decision to originally put Morris on leave was made by the school’s administration, said USU spokeswoman Amanda DeRito, and Morris’ supervisor.
The Tribune’s attempts to reach Morris were unsuccessful Thursday.
Kent Harris, who has worked in USU’s police department for 12 years, has been named interim public safety director and police chief, the two titles held by Morris. He is currently a captain in the department.
Flint, who reported she had been sexually assaulted by a football player in 2019, alleges in court papers that the university continues to protect its football team and brushes aside women who report assaults by members.
Her attorney, Michael Young, declined to comment on Morris’ departure Thursday morning.
In a blistering report in 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice detailed a pattern of mistreatment of victims at USU. Federal investigators found that Utah State repeatedly mishandled cases of sexual assault on campus, failing to act when it knew about misconduct — which meant it was leaving “additional students vulnerable.”
The federal report largely focused on USU’s treatment of football players and fraternities, which both had members accused in high-profile cases of sexual assault and misconduct in recent years. Those cases received “minimal investigation” when a report was filed to USU, investigators found.
USU said it has “made a great deal of progress in its sexual misconduct prevention and response efforts in the past five years, including mandating prevention training for students and additional education for student athletes.
The recording surfaced days before Utah State football is scheduled to face Oregon State in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on Saturday. Team members told jokes on Jimmy Kimmel Live Wednesday night.
Players can be heard laughing and hollering on the recording in response to the comments by Morris. He was speaking to the team as the fall semester began.
“And if you’re not used to a Mormon community, folks, I’m here to tell you, the Latter-day Saints community ... young ladies, they may have sex with you, but then they’re going to go talk to their minister, their bishop, priest, whatever you want to call it,” Morris said, according to the recording.
The campus police chief then told the players that no matter what prompts it, if they’re accused of assault, his officers are forced to investigate. And, he added, “the cards are stacked against you from the moment that happens.”
Morris and the assistant chief of Logan police gave out their personal cellphone numbers for the players to call if they needed advice or had concerns that an officer didn’t treat them properly.
Morris has worked at USU as chief since July 2019 — since before the Department of Justice report criticizing USU and demanding changes was released. He previously worked in law enforcement at Brigham Young University’s campus in Hawaii, which is funded and overseen by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the recording, Morris said because of that previous position, he understood “the process” and that it was often easier for LDS women to say they didn’t consent while speaking to their bishop.
Flint’s lawyers also pointed to another recorded meeting in the lawsuit. In this one, a football coach, who is not identified, told the team that it “has never been more glamorized to be a victim” and that the football team was a “target to some.”
The school said Thursday that it will separately investigate those comments, which Flint’s attorneys say came from head coach Blake Anderson.
In the 40-minute recording of that meeting, the coach goes on to warn the team that the players are “way more at risk” of being accused of assault than others because they’re athletes and are a “target to some.” In response to one of the players’ questions about “false reporting,” he says it’s “never been more talked about in the news right now” to be a victim of assault.