Former BYU professor accepts settlement in sexual violence case

The first Brigham Young University student to report Michael James Clay to police said the professor told her he was inspired of God to touch her — even after she told him she wasn’t doing it feel comfortable

Then two other women came forward with similar allegations, saying Clay also abused his position as her teacher and boss. One of the women said he misrepresented his role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates BYU, and gave her the blessing to seek counsel from him; he was not qualified to administer therapy. Both said he pressed his body against hers while reminding her that he was in control of her future.

The now-former professor was eventually charged with seven felonies, which the Utah County Attorney’s Office later reduced to three counts: violent sexual abuse of the three students. Clay, 48, was due to appear in court last week.

But in a settlement with prosecutors, Clay has instead claimed not to contest three misdemeanors. And while Clay signed a statement admitting he had touched the women and “should have known it would cause offense or alarm,” his attorneys claim the former professor was wrongly accused and maintains his innocence.

“When a person is confronted with allegations of sexual harassment, especially in the current social situation, and enlists the government’s resources on the prosecutor’s side, the accused may choose not to contest offenses and move on with his life. ‘ they said in an email statement. “That is the path Mr. Clay has chosen.”

The Utah County Attorney’s Office, which has been prosecuting the case, did not respond to a request for comment on the plea agreement.

In the deal, approved by a judge, Clay agreed to a two-year suspended sentence, some community service and counseling on sexual boundaries. His formal sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 26.

Clay was previously the director of the Urban and Regional Planning program in BYU’s geography department. His case drew widespread attention when he was first charged in 2020 in connection with the first woman to report to police.

The school said his employment there ended in April 2020.

A little over a year later, two other campus police students reported having similar interactions with Clay, during which he allegedly groped them and threatened to withhold letters of recommendation and job offers if they told anyone; Clay was in a unique position as he had sole control over the possibilities in the program. The allegations against all three women spanned from 2017 to 2020.

Clay “used his position as a university professor, employer, and priesthood holder in the LDS Church to control and manipulate the young women,” the indictment documents say. “… The accused exploited the victims and manipulated them for the purpose of sexual gratification.”

At that time there were additional fees. A four-day trial against Clay was scheduled to begin on Monday.

According to police documents, Clay was the three women’s caregiver and offered to counsel each of them while they told him about their personal problems, although he was not qualified to do so.

The first woman to reach out said she had met with Clay more than 20 times, and he told her his “office was a safe place and not to tell anyone what was going on there,” he said them the officials. According to BYU police, Clay instructed the woman to delete all text messages he sent her.

In early 2020, the woman said Clay drove her up a ravine in Utah County and touched her clothing. She told police she felt she had to say “yes” because Clay had authority over her at school.

He allegedly told her that he had prayed and felt inspired by God to pet her. Later, in February 2020, the woman said Clay asked her to straddle his lap, the indictment says. She told him to stop touching her, but she said he didn’t.

They said Clay initiated private counseling sessions with all of the students and misrepresented himself as a religious leader of the LDS Church who could offer blessings to them. Clay also mentored two of the women in off-campus jobs at his private firm.

Police say he abused that control over her.

The second woman to file a complaint said she started working for Clay around January 2017. His long hugs, she told police, resulted in him holding and stroking her. He also asked her intimate questions about her sexual experiences, she claimed. She, too, said Clay urged her to straddle him.

“She stated that the defendant was not only her boss at the university and in his private company, but that her progress in her field of study was at the sole discretion of the defendant,” the indictment said, which also said Clay had ” often reminds the victim of this fact.” .”

She said he also used their shared religion to “manipulate her into feeling a certain way.”

The third wife was also a student and an intern in his private company. She said she was groped by Clay from January 2018 to December 2019 and that the then professor would also wear his body down on her. He also asked her inappropriate questions, she said.

The indictment notes: “When the defendant discussed these matters, he said he had a rule that what was said in his office would remain in his office and indicated that he could not trust it, when she told people what he was saying and said he would never recommend someone for a job if he couldn’t trust that person.”

Justin Scaccy

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