Dixie State University may be waiving its 11th Amendment immunityIn the course of the events surrounding a lawsuit against individuals from the school, Dixie State University may be waiving its 11th Amendment immunity from prosecution.

I recently spoke with a professor from the college who said that since the filing of a civil lawsuit by Varlo Davenport against multiple individuals who work for or are associated with the school, the somewhat contentious issue seems to have died down some.

While the matter of a malicious prosecution related to the theater professor’s firing the year before was meted out in the Washington County Justice Court, there were many on the Dixie State University campus for the better part of 2015 who were outspoken about what was taking place.

The professor speaking to me was one of them and will remain unnamed here to protect the person’s identity. If there is anything to be learned from what has been taking place on the campus, it is that people who speak out against the administration’s actions are subject to retaliation. One would only need to listen to the audio recording of the bootstrapping of former DSU professor Joel Lewis by President Biff Williams and members of the administration and faculty senate for being so outspoken.

The point this professor made was that people on campus and in the community who were once at arms about the matter seem to have moved on.

My reply was that this was likely the nature of things. The issue is now securely rendered to the abyss of a federal civil litigation that could take years. Millstones of justice turn slowly, it is true. But they turn even slower still when suing a state entity.

But wait a minute now. It is not actually a state entity being sued here, is it?

DSU is granted immunity from prosecution under the 11th Amendment, so while it is generally understood that Davenport’s suit is against the school per se, in actuality the suit is being brought against people working for or associated with the school in their personal capacities.

However, it is mandated by law that the state indemnify the actions of its employees at DSU, which might explain what would otherwise seem to be a glaring conflict of interest: the Utah Attorney General’s office representing these individuals in their personal capacities.

That’s right. A state institution protected from prosecution under federal law is using state resources to defend not the institution but individuals.

This warrants some serious consideration for sure, but something else has happened that brings a finer point to this.

DSU campus police officer Ron Isaacson has been seen in what appears to be surveillance of the law office of the attorney who brought forth the suit. He was noted on at least four occasions in a DSU vehicle in the parking lot or on the street nearby the offices. What makes this more interesting is the fact that Isaacson is one of the individuals who works for DSU and is named in the suit.

I know Ron on a conversational level, and I messaged him to inquire if he knew his actions were being noted and if he was acting on his own volition while on duty or if he was acting under a directive — and if so, by whose directive? He has not responded.

A reasonable assertion here is that he is surveilling Prisbrey to gather intelligence for the purpose of defense in the lawsuit against himself and others as well as any potential future suits to follow. Perhaps he is running license plates through the state database and documenting who is visiting the law offices. Of course, this is conjecture. But under the circumstances, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. It will require looking at the duty logs to ascertain some of this, but for now, let it sink in that it appears DSU campus police is engaging in surveillance of the attorney who has filed a federal lawsuit against private individuals.

The various things this would imply not withstanding, the glaring question is this: Is DSU using institution resources and money to assist individual lawsuits?

Taking this a little further, another resource of the school is being utilized to assist in this suit. DSU’s own general council, Doajo Hicks, is working on the suit.

Taken at face value, are these not things that suggest that perhaps the 11th Amendment immunity granted the school is being used unjustly?

These are questions that demand answers.

And the Davenport case is just one in a labyrinth of unfolding stories coming from the many lawsuits against Dixie State University, past, present, and yet to come. There are so many, in fact, that I’d wager it would not be difficult to establish a pattern in the school’s modus operandi suggesting that the school’s immunity from being sued in totality could and should be under scrutiny.

A presumed purpose of said immunity under the 11th Amendment is to prevent public institutions from being held responsible for the egregious actions and behavior of its employees. It is an academic immunity per se, because the school is still required to indemnify the actions of its employees but nevertheless remains untouchable.

But what if it could be proven that it was not the act of one or two employees that brought forth, for instance, the Davenport suit? What if it were alleged — as it has been— that individuals at the staff level in the department as well as administrators were responsible? What if it included cooperation from the Board of Trustees and the Board of Regents? What if law enforcement cooperated illegally and is being utilized to defend in the suit?

What if if could be proven that a professor, a department chair, a dean of students, a president, and a vice president — with the consent and cooperation of members of the Board of Trustees and even an outside foundation supporting the school — were complicit? And also bear in mind that some members of the leadership community, such as the mayor and the county attorney, hold positions on the DSU Board of Trustees and the Dixie Foundation. What if all of the aforementioned took individual parts in exacting with impunity, under color of law, a hostile personal agenda against one person?

And lastly, what if this were not an isolated incident?

Could the case not be made that it is in fact an institution, not an individual, that should be the defendant in this case — that DSU should not be granted immunity under the 11th Amendment?

And if all of this is not enough, let’s add another component: the attorney representing the school. Not the hired gun, Doajo Hicks, mind you, but rather the actual attorney from the Utah Attorney General’s office tasked with representing the individuals in the suits.

What if, in the course of his duties, this attorney became aware of, at the least, gross ethical misconduct by his clients and, at the worst, their potentially criminal actions? Would this attorney be bound under law to uphold the oath he swore to the people of Utah and at the least recuse himself from representing the client, if not in turn prosecuting it?

These are questions that demand answers.

But for now, all seems quiet on the DSU front. The generous $10 million donation by local business Legend Solar has the new stadium underway, and the other new construction on and around the campus gives the appearance that it is business as usual for the Trailblazer Nation.

Recently, an anonymous blogger who writes often and succinctly about the Davenport case, paid The Independent and myself a compliment for keeping this story alive in the modest press. And while it is always nice to hear the few and far-between kind admonitions, the fact is that reporting this story has proven incomprehensibly complex and difficult.

That is the nature of applying oneself to the rigors of working in the Fourth Estate, I suppose.

But here is what I will tell you. I have been actively investigating multiple public entities in this town, including DSU, for the better part of five years now. I have developed upwards of 100 sources and established methodical timelines and correlations between events and these entities. And what is beginning to reveal itself with some clarity is that the patterns and behaviors of DSU are not limited to the school. There appears to be evidence of cooperation between these entities that reaches the highest levels of government in this county and perhaps reaches to the state level.

I have begun a large-scale whiteboard with columns of some of these entities and drawn lines of correlations between them. It is beginning to resemble a scene from “A Beautiful Mind” where either the work of a madman is at play or the correlations are so vast and complex that they are initially beyond comprehension. The general perception of conspiracy theories notwithstanding, remember that while correlation is not causation, it can be indicative.

I have spoken at great length with attorneys, professors, journalists, law enforcement officials, and everyday citizens on and off the record and continue to compile and analyze information as it is revealed. And something I am becoming increasingly convinced of is that it will take more than simply reporting these things in a local paper to see anything resembling justice have its way. No, it will take an investigation by outside and independent entities and perhaps exposure on a larger level.

For our part here at the Indy, let this serve as precursor to a multifaceted series of pieces on, but not limited to, these public entities. Because when there is an absence of justice for one, there is an absence of justice for all, and it is simply time for those who hold the positions of trust in our community to answer honestly and be held accountable for that trust.

In my opinion, they have not done so. Not by a long shot.

See you out there.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece misspelled Doajo Hicks’ name.

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Dallas Hyland is a professional technical writer, freelance writer and journalist, award-winning photographer, and documentary filmmaker. As a senior writer and editor-at-large at The Independent, Hyland’s investigative journalism, opinion columns, and photo essays have ranged in topics from local political and environmental issues to drug trafficking in Utah. He has also worked the international front, covering issues such as human trafficking in Colombia. His photography and film work has received recognition as well as a few modest awards and in 2015, he was a finalist for the Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Based in southern Utah, he works tirelessly at his passion for getting after the truth and occasionally telling a good story. On his rare off-days, he can be found with his family and friends exploring the pristine outdoors of Utah and beyond.