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University of Utah police chief won't face criminal charges

University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman is pictured in an undated handout photo.
University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman will not face criminal charges tied to allegations that he improperly wore a badge and gun before being certified as a law enforcement officer in the state.
University of Utah

The new University of Utah police chief who ordered an investigation into the handling of Lauren McCluskey’s case will not face criminal charges tied to allegations levied by a police union and other organizations.

The groups alleged that Rodney Chatman improperly wore a badge and gun before being certified as a law enforcement officer in the state, among other actions the organization said are not permitted prior to certification.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Monday it has declined to bring charges, citing insufficient evidence and concluding Chatman didn’t intend to deceive anyone.

“Indeed, on several occasions Chief Chatman refrained from engaging in actions in a manner that could have caused others to believe he was a certified law enforcement officer,” Blake Nakamura, chief deputy district attorney, wrote in a Friday letter to the university’s general counsel.

Chatman had been given a year to obtain the required credential through Utah’s police academy after moving from Ohio to take the job in February 2020, the university has said. He did so sometime last year, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Chatman succeeded Dale Brophy, who resigned amid public outcry over McCluskey’s death and is suing the university along with three other former department members who either quit or lost their jobs.

Chatman has been on administrative leave since December, though the university hasn’t confirmed why. He’s also seeking to leave the post permanently. Chatman is a finalist for the top public safety job at Kansas University.

The probe he ordered at the University of Utah ultimately concluded that former officer Miguel Deras shared explicit photos of McCluskey with other officers before she was murdered on campus in 2018. McCluskey, a 21-year-old track athlete and communication major, was shot and killed by a man she’d reported to university police, telling them he sought to extort her after she broke off their relationship.

Attorney Kathleen McConkie, who represents Chatman, said the university asked her client to resign or be fired from his position because of the legal notice. She said Chatman met with resistance at the university when he tried to assess the problems so he could make the very changes the school hired him to oversee.

“It’s not that he was trying to condemn anyone,” McConkie said. “I think what he was trying to do was problem solve. When he tried to get into the reasons, to audit what had happened, what had gone wrong, he seemed to have some trouble with the university.”

The complaint came from the Fraternal Order of Police, Salt Lake City police and a public safety oversight committee of students, faculty and others, said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ spokesman, Richard Piatt. The groups allege Chatman should not have authorized a probe into officers’ handling of the case without certification. They also contend he released parts of the report that he should not have and improperly carried the badge and gun.

The state attorney general’s office began investigating based on the complaint from the police union but handed it off to county prosecutors to avoid a potential conflict of interest, Piatt said. The state office represents the public university in civil cases.

Gill’s office determined Chatman’s conduct did not fit the offense of impersonating a police officer, a class B misdemeanor, said District Attorney Sim Gill. His office didn’t investigate the release of the report, which he said was carried out by lawyers for the university, not Chatman.

The criminal charge is typically filed against those who don’t work in law enforcement represent themselves as police and try to arrest or take advantage of someone, Gill said.

Chatman “wasn’t doing law enforcement functions for which he wasn’t certified to do,” Gill added.

Chatman’s investigation into the sharing of photos led to Deras’ firing from his new job at the Logan Police Department. Multiple university officers were fired because of how they handled the case, but Chatman believed one should have been kept on because he was less involved, McConkie said.

In a presentation at Kansas University last week, Chatman said he’d found three officers needed to be terminated, the Lawrence Times newspaper reported.

“I lost trust in their ability to perform policing services in a manner that meets community expectations,” Chatman said. “The very next day their attorney filed a complaint against me and said that I was not certified at the time and therefore didn’t have the requisite powers to terminate them.”

Administrators at the University of Utah are reviewing the district attorney’s findings, and Chatman as of Monday remained on leave, spokesman Chris Nelson confirmed.

Deras’ attorney, Jeremy Jones, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.