The University of Utah’s new chief safety officer is leaving after a year in the post

Marlon Lynch has accepted a new job overseeing public safety at Michigan State University.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Utah) Pictured is Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch, who will be leaving the U. in March to take a position with Michigan State University.

The first-ever chief safety officer at the University of Utah — hired to reform and rebuild the campus police department — is stepping down now after a year in the post.

Marlon Lynch announced in a letter Tuesday that he has accepted a new job overseeing public safety at Michigan State University, his alma mater. He was named a finalist for that position earlier this month.

“It is with mixed emotions I leave Utah,” he wrote. “This new opportunity was unexpected, and my decision was not an easy one to make.”

Lynch first came to the U. in the wake of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey’s October 2018 murder, which raised serious concerns about how campus police at the school responded to crimes and treated female victims. He had been in the leadership role here since February 2020. But dysfunction has continued to dog the department in that time.

His departure comes in the middle of a state investigation into the new police chief — Rodney Chatman — who Lynch oversees and who was hired shortly after Lynch to also help with overhauling the U.’s public safety operations.

Chatman was put on leave in December when the Utah Attorney General’s Office announced that it was reviewing when Chatman got his police accreditation in the state and if he wore a badge or uniform or carried a gun before getting that official license in October. The office has declined to give any updates on that process. But the U. has confirmed that the investigation is ongoing.

Through his attorney, though, Chatman has told The Tribune that he feels he’s actually being forced out 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 that she was being extorted.

McCluskey was later killed by the man she was trying to report. And Deras had done little work to look into her case, an independent review later found.

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 has largely declined to elaborate on Chatman’s leave, saying only that “may have violated certain guidelines that are also criminal offenses, which could also adversely impact his Utah POST certification.”

What Lynch accomplished

His decision to move to Michigan comes shortly after University of Utah President Ruth Watkins also announced that she would be leaving. Watkins, who approved the hiring of both Lynch and Chatman, will be stepping down in April to head Strada Impact, an education nonprofit. Lynch will be going at the end of March.

That will leave the U. without its top leader and its highest ranked security officer — and, depending on the results of the investigation, potentially also its police chief — all at once.

When Lynch leaves, he will be replaced in the interim by Keith Squires. Squires is the former commissioner over the Utah Department of Public Safety and currently an executive officer under Lynch at the U. He was also part of the three-person team that conducted the independent investigation in 2018 into how the school’s flawed response to McCluskey’s case.

In his letter, Lynch said a search for a new, permanent chief safety officer will begin after a new university president is named.

The chief safety officer position 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.

In a news release about Lynch’s departure, the university calls it “one of the most significant and visible investments made to campus safety by Watkins.”

Watkins added Tuesday: “Marlon set the bar high as our inaugural chief safety officer, transforming the way we manage safety on our campus. He achieved meaningful change and has put us on the right track to be a national model of campus safety.”

Cathy Anderson, the U.’s chief financial officer, noted, too, in a statement that Lynch is “a nationally recognized campus safety expert, so it comes as no surprise that he is highly sought after.”

The university credits Lynch with adjusting the reporting structure of the police department, creating a community services division focused on assisting victims and those in a mental health crisis and launching a new racism and bias incident response team. He also created two committees for students, faculty and the public to advise on policy and review any allegations of misconduct within the department.

In his letter, Lynch said he’s proud of what he worked on in the role.

“In the year we have had together, we have accomplished amazing work on an extremely fast track, restructuring safety operations in a way that positions the university to carry this momentum well into the future and achieve a true transformation of safety on our campus,” he said.

What’s next for Lynch

Lynch came to the U. after leading campus police at New York University. And he will now serve as the inaugural vice president for public safety, as well as the chief of police, at Michigan State — where he got his undergraduate degree — in a position similar to that what was created at the University of Utah.

Originally, the position was solely for chief of police. But MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. said in a statement that it was expanded for Lynch because of his “highly distinguished service record.”

“His nearly 25-year career in law enforcement will allow him to look expansively across the spectrum of public safety to identify areas for improvement in the department and maximize its community engagement,” Stanley said.

Michigan State’s former chief stepped down for medical reasons. And the school has had its own challenges recently, including the Larry Nassar scandal. Nassar, a former doctor and professor at MSU, was convicted of sexually molesting women on the U.S. gymnastics team. A police detective at the department there has been largely credited with helping victims get justice.

The department is also slightly smaller than the U.’s. Lynch will now be overseeing 120 personnel. In Utah, his staff was 180.

He said in his letter that he has family nearby. And he’s looking forward to being closer to them.

Lynch also told the public radio station at Michigan State, WKAR, that this was a position he has always wanted since graduating from the school and serving on the police force in the nearby Meridian township for his first job.

“This is the first time in 40 or 50 plus years that the MSU has actually opened up the position to external candidates,” he said. “This is not something you look at and say, ‘Oh, well, it’ll come back open at some other point.’”