PROVO — A Utah judge ruled Friday that BYU's University Police Department, as a law enforcement agency, is a governmental entity subject to the state's open-records laws.
Unless the ruling is appealed, it would lead to the release of additional information about how BYU police previously shared information with the school's Honor Code Office and Title IX Office regarding sexual assaults.
Third District Judge Laura Scott's one-page written ruling says she expects to issue a more detailed ruling and order "in coming days."
BYU officials issued a brief statement saying they would review the judge's detailed ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
"BYU respects the judicial process, but we're disappointed by this preliminary decision," the statement said. "The court said in today's minute entry that it expects to issue a detailed ruling and order in the next few days. BYU will wait until that order is issued to determine its next steps related to this decision and any other State Records Committee decisions."
If it stands, the ruling could also impact records requests by media outlets for more information regarding BYU police's investigation into McKenna Denson's claims that Joseph Bishop sexually assaulted her in 1984 while she was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Bishop was president of the Missionary Training Center adjacent to BYU.
University detectives interviewed Bishop and Denson in December 2017.
Scott's ruling granting the Salt Lake Tribune's motion for summary judgment was brief. The court heard oral arguments by attorneys for the Tribune and the defendants — BYU and the Utah State Records Committee — on May 14.
"Having carefully considered the briefing, undisputed material facts, applicable law and arguments of counsel," Scott wrote, "the court concludes that when BYUPD is acting as a law enforcement agency and/or its officers are acting as law enforcement officers, it is a governmental entity subject to GRAMA" — the state's Government Records Access and Management Act.
Deseret News reporter Matthew Piper was working for the Tribune when he filed a request for copies of emails between University police officers and the BYU Honor Code and Title IX offices.
BYU denied his request. The State Records Committee denied his appeal. The Tribune and Piper then took the case to 3rd District Court.
During oral arguments, Tribune attorney Michael O'Brien argued that because BYU's policing powers came from legislative action, the state had established it as a public entity.
BYU attorneys argued that because the private university established and has funded the University Police Department, it does not qualify as a government entity under GRAMA.
In the spring of 2016, a 19-year-old student said the Honor Code Office launched an investigation into her own conduct after she alleged a man had raped her. Reports showed that BYU police accessed a database of local law enforcement agencies to gather information about the alleged perpetrator and victim and shared that information with the Honor Code Office.
The story gained national attention.
A jury acquitted the man in October 2017.
Other women said they, too, had become subjects of honor code investigations after reporting assaults, adding to the specter that the university was punishing sexual assault victims.13 comments on this story
Since then and since Piper's initial request, BYU has overhauled the way it handles student reports of sexual assaults. University policy now shields student victims, as well as witnesses of sexual assaults, from honor code investigations.
It also severed the relationship between the Title IX Office and Honor Code Office. They no longer share information and now have separate software systems. The only time information is shared is when the Title IX Office refers alleged perpetrators for honor code investigation. In those cases, the Title IX office redacts the names of victims, any witnesses and the person who made the report.