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Hours after a Utah County prosecutor publicly said Brigham Young University was hindering a rape prosecution, his boss elected Utah County Attorney Jeffrey R. Buhman defended BYU as an "important and constructive ... law enforcement partner" of his office.
In coverage by The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday, Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson said BYU's refusal to delay an Honor Code probe into the alleged victim's conduct could jeopardize the rape prosecution. BYU is barring her from enrolling in more classes until she cooperates with its inquiry, which could force her to leave Utah, Johnson said. He also alerted BYU that police records it has obtained are "paperwork that lawfully they shouldn't have."
But Buhman released a statement Friday afternoon that said BYU's actions are legal and have no impact on the criminal prosecution.
"BYU has not interfered with the prosecution of, nor has it acted unlawfully with respect to the pending sexual assault case," Buhman wrote. "BYU has not in any manner impaired the ability of the Utah County Attorney's Office to seek justice for the victim of the case."
Johnson on Friday said Buhman has ordered him not to speak further about the matter.
BYU's Honor Code investigation began, according to court records, after BYU received a copy of police records in the rape case from Utah County sheriff's Deputy Edwin Randolph. Buhman's office initially charged Randolph and the rape defendant with retaliating against a witness, but Buhman later asked a judge to dismiss the case against Randolph based on information Buhman said he hasn't shared with Johnson and won't discuss.
In an interview Friday, Buhman said: "It would be more convenient to us to have the victim present in Provo. But we are fully able to prosecute our case when a victim moves out of state. We do it all the time. And she is still present."
Asked to clarify his position on Johnson's statements, Buhman said: "I'm not saying he wasn't accurate. I'm saying protecting the victim's rights is of paramount importance to our office."
Johnson had previously said BYU's insistence on continuing its investigation before the criminal rape case was resolved was likely to revictimize the woman, 20-year-old Madi Barney, and held her education "hostage."
The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not name sexual assault victims. But Barney has agreed to be identified. She has launched a petition asking BYU to stop investigating sexual assault victims for Honor Code violations tied to their crime reports for instance, when victims admit to drinking or hosting someone of the opposite sex in their bedrooms at the time of the assault.
BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has come under scrutiny as Barney and several other students said they were investigated by the school as a result of reporting sex crimes.
According to charging documents, Barney was raped during a date in her off-campus apartment by Nasiru Seidu, 39. Seidu had identified himself by a fake name and lied about his age, claiming to be 26, Barney said. He also did not say he was married, she said.
Seidu raped Barney as she told him no, crying and screaming, police wrote details Seidu allegedly confirmed in a telephone call Barney and police staged after she filed a police report.
Two months later, BYU Honor Code officials notified Barney of an Honor Code investigation into her conduct, based on her police report.
Prosecutors accused Randolph of illegally shuttling the file from Seidu to the office, and charged both men with retaliating against a witness, a third-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.
Randolph, who has coached track at BYU, admitted delivering the file because "he knew that the victim in the case could receive disciplinary action based on the information contained within the report," prosecutors alleged in court records.
Randolph now says he "never intended that BYU take Honor Code action against the female victim," according to a statement released Friday by his attorneys.
"Rather, he intended that BYU investigate male students, particularly male athletes, who may have victimized women or otherwise violated BYU standards regarding sexual conduct," the statement said.
The connection between male athletes at BYU and the rape case is unclear. Seidu is not a student.
In a recorded police interview that was played at a court hearing, Randolph appeared to focus on Barney, criticizing her behavior. There is no audible mention of suspicious conduct by male athletes, though much of the recording was inaudible.
Jeremy Jones, of the law firm Nelson Jones, also wrote in Friday's statement that Randolph was not friends with Seidu.
Jones wrote that Buhman dismissed the felony witness retaliation charge against Randolph "once he was in possession of all the facts and Deputy Randolph's intent was made clear."
However, Buhman on Friday reiterated that he sought the dismissal as a result of secret information he'd gleaned from an internal affairs investigation conducted by the sheriff's office.
Johnson would not discuss Buhman's statement or the reason he was ordered to direct media inquiries to Buhman, saying only that his employment status at the county attorney's office has not changed, and that "it was nice to talk to you in my current capacity."
Buhman confirmed that Johnson's role as prosecutor hasn't changed.
"I encourage my prosecutors to speak about cases with the media as far as we can without impinging criminal justice," Buhman said. "In issues relating to [this] office's policy and how we work with law enforcement partners, those are things that I decide."
He reiterated that BYU was instrumental "in prevention of sexual assault, and in supporting victims."
Liesel LeCates, who represents Barney, questions BYU's support for victims.
"I think you should ask the rape victims if [BYU is] supportive, not the county attorney," LeCates said. "I don't know how Buhman would know."