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Addressing student questions and concerns about police, sexual assault investigations

This webinar address students' questions about our police operations and processes related to sexual assault investigations, keeping victim advocacy and victim-survivor privacy in mind, and to broadly help students understand the jurisdictional issues, processes and resources that come into play in situations like this.


Click here to view timetable of sexual assault investigations in November 2019/January 2020.


WEbinar Transcript

INTRO: In late November 2019 the University of Utah learned U Student 1, had reportedly committed a rape at his apartment. The apartment is located in a private building downtown from which the university leases units. Both U Student 1 and his roommate—U Student 2, who was in the apartment at the time of the reported incident—were members of the university’s football team. (While the assailants’ names are public, the timeline refers to them as U Student 1 and U Student 2 because their criminal cases are pending.) A criminal investigation into the report began immediately. Around the same time, the university received a report of another sexual assault; the report initially did not include any information about the perpetrator. In January, the university received reports of two different sexual assaults involving U Student 2. Investigative and administrative actions ensued in all four cases, as the university navigated jurisdictional issues, lack of identifying information about the parties involved, and victim-survivor considerations. This is a transcript of a webinar addressing questions raised about these events and is accompanied by a timeline (see above) that highlights each case in a different color; both the webinar and timeline are designed to safeguard the privacy of the victim-survivors.

Jason Ramirez: Welcome everybody. My name is Jason Ramirez. I’m the associate vice president for student affairs and the dean of students here at the University of Utah. As you know, we’ve had some students come to us, including ASUU leadership, that have raised questions about how the university has responded to [four] sexual assault cases that occurred last winter. We want to address those questions, keeping victim advocacy and victim-survivor privacy in mind, and broadly help those students understand the jurisdictional issues, processes and resources that come into play in situations like this. I brought together a group of folks that can answer some questions that have been raised to us and so I’m going to quickly have them introduce themselves and then we’ll get on our way to answering some of these questions. If I could start with Lori McDonald.

Lori McDonald: Hello, I’m Lori McDonald, vice president for student affairs.

Jason Ramirez: Thanks, Lori. Marlon Lynch.

Marlon Lynch: Hello, I’m Marlon Lynch, chief safety officer.

Jason Ramirez: Thanks, Marlon. Sherrie Hayashi.

Sherrie Hayashi: Sherrie Hayashi, director for the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Title IX coordinator.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you. Robert Payne.

Robert Payne: Hi, I’m Robert Payne. I’m deputy general counsel at the university.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you, Robert. Aerin Washington.

Aerin Washington: Hi, I’m Aerin Washington. I’m director of campus security and compliance here at the University of Utah.

Jason Ramirez: And Ellie Goldberg.

Ellie Goldberg: Hi, I’m Ellie Goldberg. I work in the Center for Student Wellness and I’m the assistant director of advocacy.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you everybody for being here. We have a few questions that have been raised to us by students and let’s start with the pace of safety changes at the University of Utah. The question for you, Marlon, is what have we done and are we working fast enough?

Marlon Lynch: In regards to what has happened since my arrival in February of this year, we’ve made several changes and implemented numerous initiatives. I would start with the reorganization of the Department of Public Safety and the implementation of the Office of the Chief Safety Officer. My role is inaugural. So, the role, prior to my arrival, didn’t exist but the intent of it is to have a senior administrator with experience in public safety that interacts on a daily basis with university leadership, as well as the partners that provides safety and security services within the institution itself. So we have staffed the Office of the Chief Safety Officer with experience from both within higher education as well as municipal and state experience. We have also reorganized the Department of Public Safety. So whereas prior to my arrival all of the functions reported through the University Police Department, effective in July of this year we reorganized and we flattened the organization, primarily into the Office of the Chief Safety Officer and the Department of Public Safety.

Within the Department of Public Safety is the University Police. We have a new University Police Chief, Rodney Chatman, who joined us in February of this year as well, with experience both in higher education as well as municipal policing. We also hired Aerin Washington, who joins us here on this call today, as our director for campus security and compliance. Campus security would be the unarmed, non-sworn security officers that are in the residence halls as well as some administrative buildings and performing escorts. And Aerin joins us with experience in higher education, coming from Tennessee State University. We have also implemented a new division, community services division, which is led by Jamie Justice as our director and that particular area provides response for victim services as well as a partnership through the College of Social Work to where we have actually begun to employ social workers. We have three at this point and we will develop programming over fall semester with implementation in the spring.

We also have our security for the U Health system and emergency management as well. That’s a pretty significant amount of change in the seven month timeframe. Specifically, within university police department, there’s new leadership there with the director of the department, Rodney Chatman, a new deputy chief Jason Hinojosa, a new lieutenant Heather Sturzenegger, several new sergeants as well with that. So, the amount of change that has occurred in seven months—usually takes years for that. So the other component is you don’t want to move too quickly without necessary input from our community and part of what we have attempted to do is to wait to gain that input.

COVID-19 has impacted everyone in all the operations with it. As we know, our students left for spring break and didn’t return again until fall semester and with a lot of our changes and initiatives, we need the input from our community so that we’re not assuming what services are needed, that our community has the opportunity to actually engage and provide some input in it. So I think we’re moving at a pretty good pace, actually a pretty swift pace. Things will pick up as we are now in fall semester and then we will have that input and I think we’ve already begun to see some changes.

Jason Ramirez: Great. Thank you so much. Lori would you mind putting into context your experience in your time being here at the university. Marlon says that’s a significant amount in seven months. Would you echo that sentiment in terms of what you’ve seen with policy implementation and structural changes at the university?

Lori McDonald: Thank you, I would. I would suggest even to step back and think overall that when you’re talking about cultural changes and innovation, we want to do it well. We want to do it with input from multiple stakeholders, including students and faculty and staff and looking at best practices of what’s happening across the country and that does take time to do well. However, I would suggest that, through multiple taskforces over the past two years, there have been a number of recommendations for changes to personnel structure, additional personnel in everything from our victim advocacy office to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and the Office of the Dean of Students.

And so we’ve been able to add different positions and think about how we practice our policy and there have been a lot of attempts to streamline that. So there’ve been some changes going on in the background as well, prior to thinking about adding an Office of a Chief Safety Officer, which did happen. And so all of those things have been going on for quite some time and will continue with this new office but again, I would take it back to wanting to change culture and doing so does take some time to do it well, but that’s what we’re committed to.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you. That brings up another clarification question. How far do we have to go yet? Are we halfway there? Have we just started? Are we three quarters? What would your estimation be on that?

Lori McDonald: Is that for me, Jason?

Jason Ramirez: Yes.

Lori McDonald: I don’t think we’re ever finished with safety, security, innovation, best practices. We are committed to doing this for the long haul. I don’t see an end. I see this as constantly innovating and changing and improving.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you so much. Marlon, UnsafeU called for the defunding and dissolution of the University of Utah’s police department. What is your direct response to that?

Marlon Lynch: I think that is consistent with the national narrative in regards to policing in itself. So it’s not necessarily just here at the University of Utah. That is something that is being heard nationally. So it is consistent with that. What I would say in regards to it is that I hear a pretty inconsistent definition of what defund actually means with that and what we’ve taken it as here is something that we’ve already put into motion in regards to reallocation of resources. The police department is one component of public safety. It is not all. So with that and recognizing it, we are allocating resources to other areas of public safety that can be more efficient and also actually adhere to some of what is being requested in regards to public safety in itself. So for example, removing the various divisions from outside of the police department itself and having those report directly to me is different. Prior to that, everything reported through the University Police Department.

What we’ve also done is actually a response in regards to the use of social workers. Our community services division is doing that. So in that response, it would be a collaborative response with university police, social workers and then act, as we continue to evolve, an emergency management services component with it, and that’s for response purposes. So this is not in place of or instead of what Ellie and her team does in regards to advocacy. It is on a response perspective. It’s a different role in regards to that and we work collaboratively with the victim-survivor advocates as well. So that is something that is being asked for and is being put in place and we are utilizing resources here at the U, with the College of Social Work, to help us develop it as well as we’ve established internship programs for the students there to work alongside us with that, as we continue to move forward. The other components with that would be the implementation of a Public Safety Advisory Committee.

It’s a committee that is co-chaired by two student leaders. It will meet monthly. The composition includes those from both the academic campus as well as the health sciences—undergraduate, graduate professional students, faculty and staff. With that, as well as areas of the university, both men’s and women’s athletics, fraternity and sorority life, Housing & Residential Education. It’s very broad in its reach with that and this committee will have direct input in regards to how public safety services are offered here at the U and for our community. They will see everything from policies, protocols, they will assist and have input on what initiatives are implemented and how they are implemented and that’s from an engagement perspective. From an accountability perspective, we have an Independent Review Committee that is chaired by a law school professor who also teaches in the Honors College and, again, that representation is both from the academic campus as well as the health sciences campus.

And that committee, the Independent Review Committee, will review complaints against members of the Department of Public Safety. They will be able to have access to the investigative report, whatever evidence that was collected and utilized in the process, they will come up with their own disposition. They can make recommendations for policy change, training, whatever, with that. Again, accountability and transparency coming into play. That is extremely consistent with the national narrative in regards to police reformation. That is extremely consistent in regards to what is being requested by those that are making statements and things for defunding the police.

The other component with that is that I have heard discussions about not having contracts with local law enforcement, Salt Lake City Police Department, Unified and the state. Who provides police services under those circumstances? If that’s not in place? So, the other component is if the money is taken away from the university police, in order for the supplement of some form of police services, somewhat the money has to go somewhere in regards to providing those particular services as well. So again, I think when we talk about defund, there are varying definitions of it, but I think we are well on our way in regards to how we utilize the funds for policing here. It’s a reallocation component as well and that’s the step that we’ve taken with that.

Jason Ramirez: Great, thank you so much. So shifting gears a little bit here and moving towards Block 44. Lori, there is confusion, let’s just say that. There’s confusion about the messaging of Block 44 and the relationship the university has with it and the question is, is that university property and could you shed some light on what that relationship is with the university?

Lori McDonald: Oh sure. So we have had a number of years of increasing demand for students who want to live on campus, which is a wonderful but it does take us some time to build buildings. And even though we had some construction projects in the works, with the demand as it was for students wanting to live somewhere on campus, we were able to lease some property in a new facility that was opening in downtown Salt Lake City called Block 44. So we entered into a lease agreement with the property owners there to secure some rooms for a four-year period. It was started in 2018 and our lease will end the summer of 2022 and with a decreasing number of rooms every year because we knew our new building would come online this year 2020, our very large Kahlert Village project. And so we would be able to house more and more students on campus property. So it’s a lease agreement. We do staff the space in that building with a staff member from Housing & Residential Education but we do not own that building and it’s not only university students who are residing on that property.

Jason Ramirez: Great. Thank you so much. So with that definition, Marlon, who investigates or who’s responsible for investigating crimes that occur there?

Marlon Lynch: Block 44 is located within the Salt Lake City Police Department jurisdiction. So that would be outside of the University of Utah Police Department’s jurisdiction.

Jason Ramirez: Thank you. Aerin, if you could, touch on how the Clery Act would apply to Block 44, in cases that involve sexual assault or rape.

Aerin Washington: Yeah. So with Block 44 being located off campus, but still having a formal relationship with the University of Utah, it’s considered a non-campus location, but Clery reportable offenses that occur in that facility are a part of our Clery statistics for reporting purposes and so what that looks like is that those statistics are taken into consideration for our Annual Security and Fire Safety report every year and those are all included in that process.

Jason Ramirez: Does the relationship with Block 44 change how timely warning works and looks like?

Aerin Washington: So it does change the way that timely warnings look as it relates to the campus community because it did not take place physically on our campus. However, there are some other things that are taken into consideration. When we send out a timely warning, all of those are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and all of that is based on whether there is an imminent threat to the campus community. Also, whether the perpetrator was known in that situation, in addition to if the release of some information with regards to that timely warning could potentially compromise an investigation of that specific instance. So all of those are taken into consideration on a case-by-case basis as it relates to timely warnings.

Jason Ramirez: Great. Thank you so much. Sherrie, with the cases that happened last winter, what is the OEO process?

Sherrie Hayashi: Yes, Jason, I’m happy to answer that question. So one of the things that you started off very early on talking about was the importance of privacy and we take that very seriously for all of our employees, for all of our students, but especially for our victim-survivors. And so it’s always important for us to be thoughtful in the way that we talk about issues that come before our office. So what I can talk about—I can’t really talk about particular incidents—but what I can talk about is the process. So at the University of Utah, we have a mandatory reporting policy, which basically means that for the most part, all employees have to report issues of sexual misconduct and discrimination to the Office of Equal Opportunity. When those reports come to us, we also sometimes get reports from victim-survivors themselves. We may also get reports from anonymous sources or from third parties.

And so, when we receive those reports, we review them, but then we reach out to those individuals, the person who’s the victim-survivor, to make sure that they know what their options are. So, we offer supportive resources. Supportive resources are really any type of academic adjustment, employment adjustment. It can be a housing adjustment, it can be referrals to counseling, referrals to the confidential victim-survivor advocates, to our crisis support specialist, to the counseling center. It can also be a no-contact directive. Really things that are supportive in nature for that person who has undergone this incident and so we also in that outreach, make sure that they know what their options are for holding somebody accountable and so there are really two processes. One can file a complaint through our office, which is under university policy, or a person can also file a report through law enforcement.

They can certainly choose to do one, they can choose to do both or they can choose to do neither and it’s very important for us to make sure that victims understand what their options are so that they can make informed decisions about what they choose to do and what’s best for them under the circumstances. Sometimes there are times when the university must take action and so we may initiate a formal complaint for our office as a university, so that we’re looking into things. But what I would also say is that the victim-survivor always has the option of whether or not to participate in that process. They can choose to participate to the degree that they want to, and they can also withdraw from the process at any time that they choose to, but one of the challenges with that is that if they don’t participate in our process, the university may be limited in what we can do to hold that person accountable for the behavior. Does that answer your question?

Jason Ramirez: It does. If you could, clarify the relationship between a criminal investigation and a university investigation and how they influence or affect each other.

Sherrie Hayashi: Yeah. So that’s a excellent question. They are really two separate processes. So when something’s reported to Salt Lake City Police Department or the University Police Department or any other jurisdiction, their investigation is to decide whether that person’s going to be held accountable under criminal laws. For the university process, it really is about whether the person is held accountable under university policies, which prohibits engaging in sexual misconduct, and so ideally the two processes work in parallel with each other, that someone who has maybe engaged in wrongful conduct can be held accountable under both criminal process and the university processes. But it’s always the victim’s choice to decide which avenue is the best for them to proceed.

Jason Ramirez: Perfect. And then one last follow-up would be timing. How long does a case normally take and what are factors that may either delay it or expedite it?

Sherrie Hayashi: That’s also a good question. So we typically strive to complete our investigations within 60 days. There is a hearing process as well. So we hope to conclude the entire process for addressing issues under the non-discrimination policy within 150 days but there are a lot of things that can influence that. So a victim-survivor who’s interested in participating, sometimes that may go more quickly. If there’s a police investigation that may also—we want to make sure that our processes don’t interfere with criminal processes. So we want to make sure that we’re not interfering, so we will coordinate with law enforcement.

Jason Ramirez: Great. Thank you so much. These processes can be complicated and intimidating from what I’m hearing. Ellie, if you could maybe speak to what happens as OEO processes underway, as far as victim support services go.

Ellie Goldberg: Sure. Thank you. Well, after the OEO reaches out to victim-survivors, the Victim-survivor Advocacy Office in the Center for Student Wellness reaches out separately to offer confidential private support services. So basically what happens is folks will get an email that offers a conversation with an advocate to talk through lots of different things. One of them being whether or not they would like to engage with an OEO or a criminal investigation process. So what would it look like to file a complaint with OEO? What kind of time and energy do folks have to… do they have the capacity to go through that process? It can be a really difficult and complicated process.

So really talking through each step of the way and how it’s going to impact their well-being, how it’s going to impact their healing process and what justice looks like through both OEO and criminal processes, so that they can make the best decision that works for them as time goes on. If folks do choose to engage in an OEO process, so if they choose to file a complaint, they want to explore maybe an informal alternative resolution. Those are options that we can talk through and no matter what they choose to do, we will be with them alongside answering questions, helping navigate, kind of being somebody that can help communicate with the different partner offices throughout the process.

Jason Ramirez: Great. Thank you so much. Robert, so one of the concerns that was raised was wondering if it was true that the University of Utah Police Department or OGC [Office of General Counsel] refused to share documents with Salt Lake City Police Department.

Robert Payne: Yeah. Thanks for asking that question. I’m not exactly sure where that allegation came from. I think as you’ve heard today, both from Sherrie and from Ellie, we really are victim-centric in our processes. So there is sometimes a tension between sort of meeting the needs of the victim and meeting the needs of the police as well and we want to balance those two interests. So when a request for records is made to the institution, one of the things that we want to do is to consult with the victim, who generally has a say in whether they want to participate in the process. So that process can take a little bit of time and it takes a little bit of time to gather documentation and look at it and determine whether there’s any information that can’t be passed on.

So here with the cases that have kind of raised this, we were in constant communication with the police. There was never any threat from Salt Lake City that we were responding to. It was really a dialogue. I was in communication with their counsel and they got the information that they needed in order to file charges against these individuals. And then I should also mention that we had a meeting subsequently as well with the police chief for Salt Lake City and just talked about how these processes can work more smoothly and we really want to collaborate with our partners and I think we have a good relationship with them.

Jason Ramirez: Robert, as a clarification, is it just merely Salt Lake City Police Department can call and get information and then we just email them the information or are there processes which they have to follow in order to obtain that type of information.

Robert Payne: It’s really fact specific. I mean, if the police simply called the university and said, hey we want Joe Smith’s transcript and schedule. I mean, there are federal laws actually that specify when and what kind of information we can share. So sometimes we have to look at those laws and just understand how they work together before we provide information.

Jason Ramirez: Great. Thank you so much. I’m sure this is going to be one of many conversations to come, but I wanted to first say thank you to you all being willing to answer questions that are raised by our students. As you know, my office oftentimes interacts with populations that raise their concerns and we try to serve as that conduit to you all. And so first, thank you so much for engaging in this conversation and I look forward to multiple conversations in the future, as I’m sure that safety will be an ongoing thing that we have questions about. So, thank you for your day. For those watching, thank you for joining us. Have a great night.