Editor’s note: This story discusses sexual assault. If you need to report or discuss a sexual assault, you can call the Rape & Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.
Standing in a room full of football players this fall, the police chief for Utah State University told each young man to make sure that when he has sex that it’s consensual — especially if he’s with a Latter-day Saint woman.
USU police Chief Earl Morris warned the team that LDS women will often tell their bishop, when questioned about it, that sex was nonconsensual because it’s “easier.” They might be “feeling regret,” he continued, for having sex before marriage, which goes against the faith’s teachings of abstinence, so they’ll say it was assault.
“And if you’re not used to a Mormon community, folks, I’m here to tell you, the Latter-day Saints community ... young ladies, they may have sex with you, but then they’re going to go talk to their minister, their bishop, priest, whatever you want to call it,” Morris said during a team meeting as the school year began — according to a recording recently obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
Members of the team laughed and hollered in response to Morris’ comments.
The campus police chief then told the players that no matter what prompts it, if they’re accused of assault, his officers are forced to investigate. And, he added, “the cards are stacked against you from the moment that happens.”
This recording was referenced in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by student Kaytriauna Flint, who alleges in court papers that the university continues to protect its football players and deliberately brush aside women when they report they were sexually assaulted by a member of the team, which she said happened to her.
“My trust had just been completely broken by this person,” Flint said. “But the little trust that I had left in me, I put into the school to do whatever they needed to do so then I could get help. And for nearly two years, they made me relive this horribly painful experience.”
Her claims about the player come after USU football linebacker Torrey Green was convicted in 2019, after his graduation, of sexually assaulting six women while he was a student at the Logan school.
Four women told Logan police in 2015 that they had been assaulted by Green, but no charges were filed until prosecutors reexamined their cases after The Tribune published an investigative report about their claims. Prosecutors said in court papers that 19 women in total came forward with similar allegations, and the trial involved allegations of six of those women.
Flint was shocked to learn, as USU investigated her case, that the U.S. Department of Justice had detailed a pattern of mistreatment of victims at the school in a blistering report released in 2020. Federal investigators found that Utah State repeatedly mishandled cases of sexual assault on campus, failing to act when it knew about misconduct — which meant it was leaving “additional students vulnerable.”
The federal report largely focused on USU’s treatment of football players and fraternities, which both had members accused in high-profile cases of sexual assault and misconduct in recent years. Those cases received “minimal investigation” when a report was filed to USU, investigators found.
The northern Utah university settled the federal investigation by agreeing to improve its response in the future. At the time, USU President Noelle Cockett said the school would promptly respond to accusations moving forward and “should have done better.”
But the school has done little to improve, wrote Flint’s lawyers, Michael Young and Lauren Hunt, saying its mishandling of Flint’s case was similar to its failures in the past. And the same attitudes prevail, the lawyers say, pointing to the recording of the police chief as evidence that nothing has changed.
Her lawsuit was filed days before Utah State football is scheduled to face Oregon State in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on Saturday.
In a statement about the recording, USU said it “will be reviewing this matter.” Utah State said it did not have access to the recording, but said the statements described by The Tribune “are not consistent with the university’s trainings.”
The school said it “has made a great deal of progress in our sexual misconduct prevention and response efforts over the last five years,” while noting that cultural change takes time. “Students and employees bring their own developed perceptions and beliefs around sexual misconduct with them to our campuses,” it said. (See USU’s full statement below.)
Notified of Flint’s lawsuit by The Tribune, USU did not immediately respond to her claims on Tuesday.
A confusing investigation
Flint had just started her sophomore year at Utah State in the fall of 2019. She’d gotten a job as a resident adviser at the dorms. She was enjoying her classes on the Logan campus and making friends.
When she thinks back now on the morning of Nov. 26, 2019, she remembers how happy she felt. But that night, she said, she was raped off campus by a man she had known since her freshman year, who was a member of the university football team.
“And I just kept thinking about how happy I was the day before and how I may never feel that way again,” Flint said in an interview. “... Getting raped by someone you know is really devastating. It’s really confusing.”
Flint had a flight the next morning for a planned visit to her dad in Montana. As soon as her plane landed, she said, she went to the emergency room there for a sexual assault examination. The hospital reported the case to Logan police, where officers opened an investigation.
Flint reported it to USU’s Title IX Office when she returned to Utah on Dec. 3, 2019. Title IX is a federal law that charges universities with ensuring students receive education without sex-based discrimination, and offices provide support services to students who have been sexually assaulted.
The Title IX investigation, she said, was a confusing ordeal.
She was forced to switch between multiple investigators and had to repeat what happened to her again and again, she said. The lawsuit notes that the school lost the recordings of her interviews more than once.
At one point, she said, an investigator at the school’s Title IX office told her it would “probably be easiest” if she just left USU.
Under the federal Title IX law, schools are charged with collecting evidence. But Title IX staff told Flint they weren’t able to get her rape kit from the Montana hospital or Logan police, she said, and pressured her to get it herself if she wanted it considered in her case.
She eventually obtained her examination report from the hospital, which the lawsuit says noted injuries on her genitals.
The Title IX Office reviewed it and then released a report two months later, saying it was more than likely Flint was raped.
The alleged assailant appealed, according to the lawsuit, and said he asked for consent during their encounter. A panel held a closed hearing to weigh both sides in July and again upheld Flint’s account.
That decision then went to USU President Cockett for a final response.
Flint heard nothing. She continued to take classes, though she fell behind and was constantly worried about running into the football player on campus since no action had yet been taken against him; she said she had to cope “with the fact that he gets publicly praised” in his position on the team. Her mental health, she said, deteriorated.
After five months of waiting — and more than a year after her alleged assault — she decided to email the school’s Title IX coordinator, other administrators and Cockett directly. Two days later, on Dec. 4, 2020, Cockett responded.
The lawsuit says Cockett ruled that the football player hadn’t had enough opportunity to appeal, and she returned the case back to the Office of Equity to start over again.
Flint was again assigned a new investigator.
The Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Flint agreed to the use of her name.
Her alleged assailant is not identified in the lawsuit, and The Tribune is not identifying him because he was never charged with a crime. While Logan police submitted the case for potential prosecution, the Cache County attorney declined to do so, according to Young, Flint’s attorney.
Logan police did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment from The Tribune. Cache County attorney John Luthy said: “We screened the case and there was just insufficient evidence for us to move forward with the prosecution.”
By the start of 2021, new federal rules had taken effect and changed the process for how universities handle allegations of assault with students. Under then-President Donald Trump, schools were expected to allow students the opportunity to cross-exam their accuser, which meant an alleged victim could be questioned directly by the alleged perpetrator or their attorney.
If the alleged victim failed to show up or failed to provide witnesses, their account could be ignored in making a determination in the case.
Flint said she tried without success to reach an informal conclusion, where both students would sit down with a Title IX staffer and agree on a resolution. Flint said she wanted the player to be disciplined in some way. She said, though, that he would consent to only small consequences, such as listening to a 30-minute podcast on assault, for example.
By May, Flint said, a staffer at the Title IX Office had told her in an email that her case would proceed with new hearings. She also was told by the office that she would need to get the Montana nurse who had done her sexual assault exam to testify for that evidence to be accepted, the lawsuit alleges, and that she would also need testimony from the Logan officer who took her report.
She’d need to set those witness appearances up on her own, they told her, according to the lawsuit. And she’d need to testify herself in front of the football player.
The alleged perpetrator was also requesting to see the photos that had been taken as part of her sexual assault exam, Flint’s lawyers say.
Flint said she wasn’t sure what to do and was nervous about going forward.
Then, in July, a federal court struck down part of Trump’s order and informed schools to stop requiring that victims be cross-examined. However, the lawsuit states, USU didn’t adjust and never informed Flint of the change.
“Policies were changing,” she said. “I didn’t understand what was going on. I was confused constantly.”
In October, she said, Flint emailed the Title IX coordinator and said it was going to be too difficult for her to attend the hearing and be questioned by her alleged perpetrator. The coordinator told Flint that likely meant her case would be dismissed — which it was in November, nearly two years after Flint reported being assaulted.
But the lawsuit alleges that with the change to Trump’s law, other evidence — such as testimony from the nurse — could have been considered by the school.
‘Help us help you’
It was around the same time this fall that Logan’s top law enforcement officials met with the football team in that recorded meeting.
Before the USU police chief made his comments about sexual assault, Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen told the team he wanted the players to “play good ball” and pledged to “work with you to the best of our ability.”
“So help us help you,” he said, “stay on the football team. Go to the NFL. Whatever it is your ultimate goal is.”
Assistant Logan Police Chief Jeff Simmons urged the football team to work with his officers, and to not demand a search warrant if officers were coming to break up a loud party. And if they found themselves in trouble, he said, they could text him “asking for a friend.”
Jensen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Tribune.
After the police chief said his department wanted to work with the players, USU police Chief Morris then said there was no tolerance for sexual assault.
In the meeting, Morris and the Logan department’s assistant police chief gave out their personal cellphone numbers for the players to call if they needed advice or had concerns that an officer didn’t treat them properly.
Morris has worked at USU as chief since July 2019 — since before the Department of Justice report criticizing USU and demanding changes was released. He previously worked in law enforcement at Brigham Young University’s campus in Hawaii, which is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utah State released its statement on his behalf.
In the recording, Morris said because of that previous position, he understood “the process” and that it was often easier for LDS women to say they didn’t consent while speaking to their bishop.
Flint said when she heard this recording, she felt sick to her stomach and started to cry.
“I should be able to trust that the school will take care of me and I should be able to trust that the campus police and the city police will take care of me,” she said. “But if behind closed doors they’re communicating with who I know is my perpetrator and other teammates, like that ... it made me feel like when I went to police in the first place, they didn’t take me seriously.”
Flint’s lawyers also pointed to another recorded meeting in the lawsuit. In this one, a football coach, who is not identified, told the team that it “has never been more glamorized to be a victim” and that the football team was a “target to some.”
‘Still giving preferential treatment’
The Department of Justice report, which covered events from 2013 to 2017, noted that USU received more than 15 reports of alleged sexual assault involving USU football players. And investigators noted it was common for USU to close incident files involving football players after “only minimal investigation.”
The eventual charges against Green were among the biggest cases from that time; he is now serving a lengthy prison sentence.
When the DOJ issued its report in February 2020, USU had promised to “respond promptly, equitably, and adequately to known sexual harassment that has created a hostile environment.”
Utah State was also tasked with revising all of its policies regarding harassment, how it investigates cases and how offenders are disciplined. That included requiring all campus police reports to include the USU clubs or sports teams implicated (if any) and whether the university opened an investigation or its reason for not doing so, as well as listing the outcome.
If USU shows any lapses, the DOJ can step in and take legal action.
Flint would like to see employees at Utah State held accountable for how her case was handled, especially with it spanning two years. Her lawsuit alleges that USU showed deliberate indifference, enforcing an outdated policy that unfairly put the onus on her as the alleged victim.
“Despite that acknowledgment and explicit promise to do better,” the lawsuit states, “USU is not only still failing to uphold its obligations under Title IX, [it’s also] still giving preferential treatment to male athletes accused of sexual misconduct.”
She is asking for unspecified financial damages to cover the costs of therapy and tuition.
Flint, who is still a student at USU, said she had to quit her job as a resident adviser in the dorms after her assault. She said she couldn’t do it any more because she worried a student would confide in her about experiencing an assault. In those cases, she was supposed to recommend they seek assistance from the school.
But, Flint said, “I couldn’t, in good conscience, say the school is going to help.”
Correction: 10:15 a.m. Dec. 17, 2021: This story has been updated to reflect that Assistant Logan Police Chief Jeff Simmons urged the football team to work with his officers, and to not demand a search warrant if officers were coming to break up a loud party. And if they found themselves in trouble, he said, they could text him “asking for a friend.” Those comments were incorrectly attributed.
Full statement from Utah State University on the recording from the school’s police chief:
“We do not have access to the recordings and do not know the entirety of the discussion during which the statements were made. That said, it is important to USU that our messaging and trainings reflect the university’s efforts to prevent sexual misconduct, reduce barriers to reporting, and respond to it appropriately when it occurs. The transcribed statements, as presented by the Tribune, are not consistent with the university’s trainings on this matter.
The university has made a great deal of progress in our sexual misconduct prevention and response efforts over the last five years, including instituting mandatory prevention education for students and additional education for student-athletes, introducing the Upstanding program to our campus, conducting three campus climate surveys to gauge our students’ experiences and our progress, and participating in the annual Start by Believing event. Additionally, in January 2020, USU Police created a specialized unit that includes a confidential SAAVI advocate and a dedicated law enforcement detective to respond to reported incidents of sex crimes and domestic violence.
However, we know cultural change takes time; students and employees bring their own developed perceptions and beliefs around sexual misconduct with them to our campuses. USU stands firm in its commitment to create a campus culture where individuals understand and practice sexual respect and survivors of sexual assault are supported.
We will be reviewing this matter further as we continue our ongoing work to build a welcoming campus environment for the USU community.”