University of Utah’s police chief’s retirement party cost $6K

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Then-University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy speaks at a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.

The University of Utah police department spent $6,000 to throw a retirement party for outgoing Chief Dale Brophy — a celebration that came as he was stepping down and his force was under fire for ignoring concerns reported by student-athlete Lauren McCluskey before she was killed on campus.

The invoice for the party was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request as part of a review of university spending following McCluskey’s October 2018 slaying. The school has allocated more than $1 million to projects to improve safety in response.

But it stands out that the U. honored the chief with thousands — edging close to the price of a semester of tuition — while there have been ongoing questions about misconduct and mistreatment in the department.

“The university has recently appointed a new chief safety officer and a new police chief," responded university spokesman Chris Nelson. "We are clearly moving forward and learning lessons from the past. But this event was a police department recognizing a person retiring from law enforcement after 25 years.”

The celebration for Brophy, held on Oct. 11 at Rice-Eccles Stadium, involved a taco party where more than $4,000 was spent on food — including “de-constructed posole salad with chili lime vinaigrette” and “crab avocado shooters with diced jicama,” according to emails to the caterer. The department also purchased mini chocolate eclairs for a dessert bar at $14.69 per dozen (they ordered five dozen). And the service fee was nearly $1,000.

That was all provided by Chartwell’s, which already has a contract for food services at the U., Nelson said. Another $500 was spent on sound equipment at the stadium and contracted out, as well.

Nelson said retirement parties at the school vary based on a person’s position and department. He didn’t know if the celebration for Brophy was comparable to other police chief retirements, including Scott Folsom, who left the U. at the end of 2014 before Brophy took over the department.

“There are hundreds of people who retire from the University of Utah every year,” Nelson added. “The police chief is obviously a high profile position. But some do dinner with the department or cookies and punch. And some don’t do anything. It’s not like there’s a standard approach.”

He suggested that the price, though, was “reasonable.”

“The recommendations from our accounting team is to always be conservative and not do more than is necessary,” Nelson noted. With this event, “they were honoring someone who was retiring after 25 years in law enforcement. We consider that to be a reasonable gesture as a farewell.”

Nelson said all of the roughly 170 staff members at the U.’s Department of Public Safety were invited, as well as some individuals in law enforcement throughout Salt Lake County, including Brophy’s previous department at West Valley City.

More than 200 people showed up to the two-hour event.

When reached for comment about the party, Brophy responded: “They threw me a nice party, and I appreciate it.” He then directed questions back to the university.

Brophy stepped down this past October — one year after McCluskey was killed outside her dorm and amid continuing criticism over how his officers mishandled her reports.

An independent review team found the U.’s police department brushed off McCluskey’s multiple calls in the weeks before her death. The 21-year-old track star was killed outside her dorm by Melvin S. Rowland, a man she had briefly dated and tried to warn campus police about. He later died by suicide.

Following that, more students and staff have come forward to share their stories of also being ignored or mistreated when reporting crimes on campus, including cases of rape, stalking, sexual harassment and dating violence.

The Tribune has also reported that several previous employees accused Brophy of poor management, yelling and handpicking his friends and former coworkers to fill open policing positions at the U.

Brophy started at the U. as deputy chief in 2013 and took over as chief two years later. In total, though, he spent more than two decades in law enforcement and left the U. with a retirement paid for by the state because of his time in service. He previously faced criticism for how his officers handled an alleged rape on campus in 2016 and the arrest of a nurse in 2017.

The department previously was blasted for hosting an awards ceremony where a dispatcher and two administrators were honored for how they responded to McCluskey’s concerns. Matt McCluskey, McCluskey’s dad, had said the event “borders on obscene.”

Her parents, who are currently suing the U., declined to comment Friday for this story. On Thursday, the U. announced its hire of a new police chief — Rodney Chatman — who will take over the department and be tasked with rebuilding trust.