The new chief safety officer brought in to overhaul and redirect the University of Utah’s campus police department might soon be leaving.
And his potential departure comes as the police chief he oversees — and who was also hired to help with reform — is currently on paid administrative leave.
The two highest ranked leaders over security at the school came to the U. in the wake of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey’s murder in October 2018, which raised serious concerns about how the officers there responded to crimes and treated female victims. They’ve both been in their respective positions for less than a year. But dysfunction has continued to dog the department in that time.
“The caliber of candidates has been very strong — national candidates with extensive experience in crisis situations, public safety priorities for college campuses and the ability to lead a large, diverse team,” said MSU’s Alan Haller, deputy athletic director and search committee chair, when the three finalists were named earlier this month. The statement was published by The State News, the student newspaper at MSU.
Lynch, who took the post as the U.’s chief safety officer last February, earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at Michigan State. He never worked at the campus department there, though, and came to Utah from New York University.
He declined to comment Friday about applying for the post, as did the U.’s spokesman.
The spokesperson at MSU said the school anticipates making a final decision soon. The former department head there left for medical reasons.
Lynch’s current job at the U. is a cabinet-level post that directs all aspects of security on campus, including emergency preparedness, cyberattacks, laboratory hazards and campus policing. But it was created, specifically, in response to how McCluskey’s case was mishandled by U. officers.
McCluskey was killed outside her dorm by a man she tried to warn police about several times. A later independent review found that police did little to look into her concerns.
At the time he was hired at the U., Lynch said: “Certainly, my goal is to move forward and learn from what has happened in the past.”
But Chatman has since become entangled in controversy in the position, as well.
Chatman was put on leave in December and an investigation began by the Utah Attorney General’s Office. The office’s spokesman declined to give an update Friday. But the U. confirmed that the review is ongoing.
Chatman has told The Tribune through his attorney that he feels he’s being forced out as a scapegoat over persistent concerns about how McCluskey’s case was mishandled — and for his transparency in discussing them.
He points to the public release of a report last summer from the Utah Department of Public Safety that confirmed former Officer Miguel Deras, who was assigned to McCluskey’s case, showed off the explicit photos she had provided as evidence of her concerns that she was being extorted.
Chatman had requested the state review and promised to provide the results when it was completed.
Kay McConkie, Chatman’s attorney, said shortly after, the U. told the chief that the school was facing pushback — and a potential legal complaint, from a source they did not disclose — over the release. She said they told Chatman he could either resign or be terminated.
Lynch, though, later said in a statement that there were also concerns with Chatman’s police accreditation in Utah.
He said he placed Chatman on leave after learning he “may have violated certain guidelines that are also criminal offenses, which could also adversely impact his Utah POST certification,” referring to the license officers need to police in the state.
McConkie confirmed that Chatman had been accused of wearing a uniform and badge and carrying a gun before becoming a certified officer in Utah. If that were true, he could be criminally charged.
But the attorney says that’s not what happened. She denies that Chatman dressed in uniform at all before he received his license in October. She did acknowledge that the police chief carried a concealed gun on campus — but that is not against the law.
He had a permit and was worried at the time about former officers of the department retaliating against him for releasing the report, McConkie said.
Additionally, not being certified is not unusual, especially for police chiefs coming from out of state, like Chatman. Though they typically apply for a waiver, police chiefs don’t have to be certified to perform administrative duties, and that’s what McConkie said that Chatman was doing during that time; he did not have duties related to patrol. She added that the U. told Chatman he could take a year to get certified, which requires completing a test.
Lynch confirmed that timeline in his earlier statement.
Chatman’s leave and Lynch’s application to Michigan State also both come at the same time that U. President Ruth Watkins announced she would stepping down from her post at the end of April.
She has since said that McCluskey’s case and the fallout was one of “the elements” that she considered in deciding to leave the state’s flagship institution. She had approved the hiring of both Lynch and Chatman as part of her efforts to reform the police department.