Utah’s newly appointed heads of state come from the University of Arizona, which is in turmoil following a campus killing

Logan • Two new campus leaders from southern Arizona will soon be arriving at Utah State University in the coming weeks and months.

These leaders — new USU Police Commissioner Jason Brei and newly appointed USU President Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell — will soon be in Logan after stints at the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson.

Brei will soon be USU’s third permanent chief of police since the end of 2021. Cantwell will become USU’s 17th President, succeeding outgoing President Noelle Cockett, who announced her resignation in November.

Memories of USU’s troubles with campus safety and investigation of campus sexual assault are still vivid in Logan, as is the 2020 settlement with the Department of Justice over mishandling of campus sexual violence.

But last year, UA had to deal with campus security itself after a beloved professor was killed on campus, allegedly by a disengaged student who had repeatedly threatened the faculty.

Investigations later revealed numerous deficiencies in the security structure of the UA campus. The killing prompted the university to overhaul its campus security departments and led to the resignation of senior administration officials.

Cantwell told the Salt Lake Tribune in an email that her job at UA doesn’t put her at the center of campus security issues, but she is aware of the role a president plays in campus security.

“Preventing violence in our campus community requires a collaborative approach, and I look forward to meeting those who are committed to safety at USU and the university’s safety and crime prevention policies, procedures and practices better understood on campus,” Cantwell said in an email.

When we reached him via email, Brei said he was looking forward to coming to campus and working with USU police, but he told The Tribune that he was unable to explain the security issues on the campus UA campus to discuss in the past.

“Due to the sensitivity and limitations of pending litigation, the U of AI is not at liberty to discuss many aspects of this matter,” Brei said in an email.

A murder on campus

On October 5, Thomas Meixner, a professor in UA’s Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, was shot in a building on campus and died in hospital. A former graduate student who had been expelled and expelled from the school was accused of the murder.

Following Meixner’s death, Cantwell expressed her sorrow in a university press release.

“Tom Meixner was such an influential and enthusiastic scientist,” Cantwell said. “He was amazing, incredibly respected, really made his time and ideas available – especially to his students – and is simply emblematic of what the scholarly community at the University of Arizona aspires to do: change the world.” I can cannot express how much he will be missed by our entire research community.”

UA hired an outside security firm, PAX Group, to investigate the events leading up to Meixner’s death.

That company released a report in March that found numerous shortcomings in the governance of UA and campus security. The investigation determined that the suspect had threatened several faculty members prior to the killing.

The fallout led to UAPD Chief Paula Balafas and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost Liesl Folks resigning from their posts in May. The university’s president, Robert Robbins, remained in office despite a March 27 vote of no-confidence in UA’s faculty senate against Robbins and other members of the university’s leadership.

According to KOLD, a Tucson-based television station, Meixner’s family filed a complaint — typically a preliminary stage to a lawsuit — against the state in March, seeking $9 million in damages. To date, no lawsuit alleging Meixner’s death has been filed in Arizona state or federal courts.

Threat Assessment Management Team and UA Police

The investigation focused in part on the UA Department of Police and the Threat Assessment and Management Team (TAMT), a diverse group of law enforcement and university personnel who “work to determine whether an individual is, or may be, a threat of violence.” others,” the website reads.

In an email, a spokesman for the UA Public Safety Bureau said that Brei started as deputy chief of the UAPD in May 2016 and has been a member of the TAMT since 2018.

The investigation found that the TAMT was not running efficiently and the team’s protocols “resulted in a series of decisions and actions that presented numerous opportunities.” [the suspect] Harassing and threatening members of the University of Arizona community.”

The report also said that in 2018, TAMT members raised concerns about a lack of support from university leadership. TAMT met with university leaders that same year. In 2021, they again raised the issue with the leadership, expressing that they still had not resolved the issues raised in 2018. The PAX report said a TAMT member told university leadership, “It’s taken years to get to this point, and none of us seem to know why.”

There was a lack of clarity at university offices about what type of information about threats to UA staffers might be shared, the report said, which “made information sharing difficult.”

Among the recommendations set out in the report, the PAX group suggested that UA revise TAMT and formalize its policies, as well as hire a TAMT coordinator not directly attached to the police department or the UA Office of General Counsel.

“As of October 5, 2022, TAMT was not operating effectively, preventing the university from accurately assessing, managing, and coordinating actions to mitigate a real and present threat,” the report said.

According to the PAX report, prior to the murder, college police and TAMT had three options to potentially intervene and apprehend the suspect. He was spotted on campus sending threatening emails to the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences — all after being expelled and expelled from campus in February 2022.

The third opportunity came when the student entered the university police station days before the murder and asked them to check the license plate of his new vehicle “to see what was happening,” the report says. “The university’s culture of moving from incident to incident without improving the process to create a clear threat management and investigation strategy resulted in missed opportunities for mitigation and intervention.”

Utah State Campus Security

While UA has made changes to campus security since the Meixner shooting, some of the changes made at UA are things that USU has already made, such as creating a public safety department.

The PAX report detailed that various branches of UA were not communicating properly, leading to gaps in security and threat response.

According to Amanda DeRito, a spokeswoman for USU, improving campus communications was also a big takeaway from the Utah Department of Justice investigation.

“Some of the things that we’ve seen in the past are that people weren’t collaborating as much, sharing information and things like that,” DeRito told The Tribune. “This is set out in both the report we prepared in 2017 after reviewing our internal processes and the DOJ’s report.”

DeRito said the university is obviously very sensitive to student privacy, but said there are clear exceptions in the student privacy law, particularly with regard to public safety, which campus members need to be aware of.

“We are very aware of this and our campus offices regularly share information when there are security concerns,” she said.

USU also has a program where students, staff and faculty can submit a Student of Concern Report when someone exhibits behavior that is of concern. These reports are reviewed by the USU CARE Office, which stands for “Connect, Assist, Refer, Empower”.

DeRito said the CARE office can help students in a variety of ways. For example, if a student has missed several days of class, the CARE office can contact and provide resources if necessary. If a student is ill and has missed class, the CARE office can help. The office can also assist the student with mental health resources if needed, DeRito said.

If a student is determined to be a potential hazard to themselves or others, the university’s behavior intervention team will step in to help, according to DeRito.

New leaders

Brei is to become USU’s third official police chief from December 2021.

In December of that year, then-Police Chief and Director of Public Safety Earl Morris resigned from his posts just a day after the university placed him on administrative leave. A recording revealed comments Morris made to members of the Aggie football team about sexual assault that USU called “reprehensible and unacceptable.”

Morris was succeeded as chief by Blair Barfuss in July 2022, but Barfuss left USU less than a year into his tenure. USU said in a press release that Barfuss will be leaving on February 17 “due to recent family health issues.” On February 21 – four days after leaving Logan – he started as chief of the Riverton Police Department.

The university announced on May 11 that Brei would be in charge of the police force. A little over a week later, Cantwell was selected by the Utah Board of Higher Education to head the university. Mash is scheduled to start on July 1st, Cantwell on August 1st.

Correction Jul 5 8:45 am • This story has been updated to correct spelling by USU spokesperson Amanda DiRito.

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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