(CN) — The University of Utah's former chief of police sued the school on Monday for $1.23 million, claiming it blocked his investigation into the 2018 murder of student Lauren McCluskey and then used him as a scapegoat to protect its public image.
"The University of Utah was not genuinely concerned with improving campus safety. Instead, the University of Utah was only concerned with creating the perception that it was addressing campus safety in an attempt to improve its public image and avoid additional criticism related to its police department and/or the murder," former Chief of Police Rodney Chatman claims in his 29-page lawsuit filed in the Third Judicial District Court for Salt Lake County.
After months of suffering dating violence and reaching out to the school for help, 21-year-old communications major Lauren McCluskey was violently murdered by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland at the University of Utah on Oct. 22, 2018.
A 2019 lawsuit filed by McCluskey's parents described her as a successful student and track star and alleged the school violated her Title IX rights. The parties settled the case in March for $13.5 million.
After spending $60,000 on a public relations consultant and forcing its then chief of police to retire, the university hired Rodney Chatman to lead the university's police force. Chatman had 31 years of law enforcement experience under his belt and moved from Dayton, Ohio, to take the job.
According to the complaint, Chatman found the university police "distributed compromising images of Lauren McCluskey for prurient purposes unrelated to any legitimate law enforcement activity."
University police officers characterized his internal investigation into the photos as a witch hunt, but Chatman ultimately fired several officers connected to the incident. According to the lawsuit, the officers then threatened to file a complaint against the school unless they were paid $10 million and Chatman was fired.
The university also dismissed Chatman's concerns that a majority of campus sexual assaults went unreported.
In August 2020, the university demoted Chatman to the position of director. According to the complaint, the university further shot down Chatman's suggestions to hold a public department-wide debriefing, to fix its reporting procedures and foster relationships with the community.
The university placed Chatman on administrative leave in December 2020, claiming he was being investigated for criminal offenses. Chatman officially resigned from the university on Aug. 31, 2021.
Upon investigation, the state attorney general's office issued a declination letter stating, “insufficient evidence exists upon which to file any charges against Chief Chatman for impersonating a Peace Officer or other related offenses.”
Citing violations of contract and the Utah Protection of Public Employees Act, Chatman asks for a jury trial and $1.23 million judgment.
Chatman is represented by the Law Firm of McConkie and Collinwood. A University of Utah representative declined to comment until the school has reviewed the complaint.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.