The University of Utah’s new police chief announced Tuesday that he is resigning, capping a yearlong tenure he considers marked by frustration — with unfounded accusations of misconduct lobbed against him and his efforts to reform the troubled campus police department often met with resistance.
Rodney Chatman, a veteran in law enforcement, has accepted a new job as the vice president for campus safety at Brown University, an Ivy League school in Rhode Island. He will start there in September.
“Communities don’t want policing done to them,” Chatman said in a statement released by Brown. “They want campus safety initiatives developed in partnership with them. The recognition at Brown that safety is more complex than policing and that success in ensuring well-being takes authentic engagement across the community made it clear that joining Brown was the ideal opportunity for me.”
Chatman’s departure from the U. comes after he has spent the last seven months there on administrative leave — roughly half of his time in the post. That has continued for the last two months, even after he was cleared of any wrongdoing at the start of June by the Salt Lake County district attorney.
The U.’s spokesman declined to comment on that or Chatman’s new job Tuesday.
The chief was originally chosen to oversee improvements to the U.’s police department after the murder of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey. McCluskey was killed outside her dorm in October 2018.
She had tried several times to report her concerns about a man she briefly dated, Melvin Rowland, to officers there. Independent investigators found they didn’t take her seriously and did little to investigate. Rowland later shot her before dying by suicide.
Chatman was hired in February 2020 to take over after the turmoil over how officers mishandled McCluskey’s concerns persisted — including at least two making similar mistakes in later cases — and the former police chief, Dale Brophy, stepped down.
But Chatman has said that when he tried to fix how things were operating, he was ignored, pushed aside or told to stop. He tried to hold a forum to address lingering questions about McCluskey’s case, he said, but was shut down.
In the end, the new chief says he was targeted for his transparency and reform efforts and for bringing up additional concerns that the U. was failing to properly report sexual assaults according to federal requirements.
That culminated on Dec. 10 when he was put on leave.
Allegations against the chief
At the time, the school cited anonymous accusations of misconduct involving Chatman carrying a badge and gun before he got his police certification in Utah. That would be illegal.
Chatman retained an attorney who said that when the complaint against Chatman was first filed, the chief was asked by university administrators to resign or be terminated. They promised Chatman a letter of recommendation if he left willingly, she said; they threatened to make sure he wouldn’t get another job in policing if he didn’t.
But he denied any wrongdoing and fought the allegations, which it turned out came from the Utah Fraternal Order of Police union. Chatman believes the union targeted him because he fired three officers and spoke out against a fourth, Miguel Deras, who had already left the department. The union is representing them in a legal complaint against the school.
The issue arose in May 2020 when The Salt Lake Tribune first reported that Miguel Deras, who was assigned to McCluskey’s case, showed off intimate photos that she had taken of herself and had sent in as part of her concerns that Rowland was extorting her.
Chatman ordered a formal investigation from the Utah Department of Public Safety that confirmed Deras displayed the images to at least three male coworkers without a work-related reason, with several saying that inappropriate comments were made. Deras showed the pictures, too, to a sergeant on the night of McCluskey’s death.
The police chief condemned Deras and took action against the other officers who knew about the display but did not report it. Deras, who had since left the U. and was working for Logan police, was also terminated from his position there in northern Utah.
A few months later, the complaint was filed by the Fraternal Order of Police, accusing Chatman of having released that report without the authority to do so, as well impersonating an officer.
‘Proved to be unfounded’
District Attorney Sim Gill later determined those allegations were unfounded, citing “the absence of any evidence.”
Chatman, he added, had received his police certification in October — eight months into his term as chief. The U. has previously said that Chatman would have a year to get his police certification in Utah after his hiring date.
Gill noted, too, that Chatman only performed administrative duties before he was certified, which is allowed under state law. The district attorney declined to prosecute the chief.
In a news release Tuesday, Brown University addressed the accusations against Chatman. The school’s executive vice president for planning and policy, Russell Carey, said:
“Given the unfortunate nature of an allegation that proved to be unfounded, Chief Chatman proactively raised this topic in the Brown interview process, was fully forthcoming with the search committee, and has been cleared across the board by the district attorney in Utah.”
Chatman has since filed a notice of claim against the University of Utah, accusing the school of using him as a scapegoat and putting him on leave without cause. It’s the first step in a lawsuit. Chatman is demanding $10 million for the alleged mistreatment and damage to his reputation in law enforcement.
According to the news release from Brown, Chatman said he wants to get back to why he wanted to lead a campus department in the first place: engaging with students to make them feel safe.
“It’s important that students and community members understand that however they come to us, we respect their dignity and their humanity,” Chatman said. “Those tenets are fundamentally important to how public safety needs to engage with those they serve.”
Brown University’s president said, too, that his approach to including students in conversations about policing is why the school selected Chatman. During his time at the University of Dayton, Chatman had created a panel of students to weigh in on campus police policies and actions. Brown plans to do the same.
The school also notes that with the national conversations around justice and policing, they anticipate holding community forums with Chatman to talk about race, oppression and brutality.
“As we continue to assess and strengthen campus safety practices amid the critical national debate around policing and justice, we are set to welcome a truly accomplished leader who is ideally positioned to guide this work at Brown,” said University President Christina Paxson.
With Chatman’s resignation, all of those in leadership positions at the University of Utah responsible for responding to concerns with campus police have now left. In March of this year, Chatman’s boss — Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch — announced that he would be leaving. He came to the U. shortly before Chatman in a new position designed to oversee all aspects of security on campus. Ruth Watkins, president of the university, also stepped down in April to work with a national education nonprofit.