State to take on sexual assault investigations in Utah National Guard going forward

The change comes under new leadership at the guard, months after former Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Michael Turley was put on leave following an Army investigation with ‘substantiated finding.’

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the Utah National Guard at Governor's Day at Camp Williams on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. The Department of Public Safety now will investigate “anything that is criminal or has the potential to be a criminal case at [the Utah National Guard’s] request," replacing investigations by local law enforcement.

In the wake of concerns raised about the environment at the Utah National Guard, the Utah Department of Public Safety now will handle investigations of sexual assault among soldiers and airmen.

Criminal behavior was formerly investigated by local law enforcement in the jurisdiction where the alleged misconduct occurred — a process that Brig. Gen. Joseph Green said “was a nightmare” for the guard to navigate, and often created confusion and long delays in justice.

Guard members who said they were assaulted at Camp Williams, which is a Utah National Guard training site in Bluffdale, often reported the crime to law enforcement in their hometowns, Green said, which could be anywhere “from Blanding and Cedar City to Vernal and Wendover.”

Those reports would then have to be passed along to the jurisdiction in which it happened. “We found that nine times out of 10 it doesn’t make that connection,” said Green, who was recently promoted to assistant adjutant general.

So last November, he reached out to Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Jess Anderson to ask if the department would take on those cases, creating one jurisdiction for the guard.

The Department of Public Safety, which investigates cases for other statewide entities like the Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice and Youth Services, agreed to take it on.

“This brings consistency and efficiency for the guard since they have various locations across the entire state by providing one process and one point of contact,” a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety said in an emailed statement.

The change follows an anonymous letter sent to Gov. Spencer Cox in 2021 that alleged that the then-head of the Utah National Guard — Maj. Gen. Michael Turley — mishandled sexual misconduct allegations. A former guard member who reported she was sexually assaulted later in 2021 subsequently said the state force “failed me at every turn.”

And Turley later left his post as head of the guard after an Army investigation reached a “substantiated finding” that he had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

According to data obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request, sexual assault within the Utah National Guard has trended upward, part of a similar pattern reported by the National Guard Bureau nationwide. The number of reported sexual assaults in the state forces jumped from three in fiscal 2021 to 18 in fiscal 2022. Thirteen were reported in fiscal 2023.

“Even though we might have lower rates of certain incidences [than the active component of the military], like suicide or sexual assault, when it happens, it’s a big deal, and it’s traumatic,” Green said. “The waves, the ripples from those waves go through the entire community for years and years.”

The Department of Public Safety said it will investigate “anything that is criminal or has the potential to be a criminal case at [the Utah National Guard’s] request.”

Because the partnership is so new, the department said it is not yet sure what the added work load will look like. Since it took on the responsibility last fall, the department said it has responded to two cases for the guard.

From Green’s perspective, the change is already making a difference. When the guard turned to the department with a question about a potential case, he said getting a reply “took 10 minutes instead of 10 weeks, which sometimes happens with local jurisdictions.”