It is fitting that this story comes in the early days preceding Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His words in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” could not be more appropriate.
On Friday, Jan. 6, Varlo Davenport filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, District of Utah, against 11 people at Dixie State University and additionally against John Does I–X.
The following defendants are named in the complaint:
—DSU President Richard “Biff” Williams.
—Fine Arts Department chair Mark Houser.
—Public Safety Department director Don Reid.
—Former Executive Vice President William Christensen.
—Dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts Jeffrey Jarvis.
—Dean of Students Del Beatty.
—Vice President of Administrative Services Paul Morris.
—Director of Media Relations Steve Johnson.
—Assistant director of Public Safety Department Ron Isaacson.
—Chair of the Board of Trustees Christina J. Durham.
—Assistant Utah Attorney General Michael Carter.
While the college is not specifically named in the suit, it does state, “Plaintiff has no obligation to provide notice to the governmental entity as sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment has been waived in Utah for any cause of action based in contract, express or implied.”
While under the 11th Amendment, the college may be exempt from prosecution or suit. Utah law mandates that the state is required to indemnify the actions of its employees, which is to say that although Davenport appears to have only brought suit against these named and unnamed individuals personally, by default he is suing the entire school. And it should be noted that the school would be responsible for compensatory damages while the individual defendants would be on their own for punitive damages should Davenport prevail in this suit.
Up until this point, civil rights suits against the school have been settled mostly for an obtuse amount of $50,000. It is the amount that the state will pay without question, and the school appears to know this. In the last two years, the school settled two civil rights suits out of court for this amount and in press interviews espoused an almost ambivalence stating that although they were right, settling was prudent and cost them nothing anyways as State Risk Management pays their claims. The flagrant arrogance the school has demonstrated in the past with regards to civil rights claims can be explained by the fact that they feel protected from the consequences of their actions.
In Davenport’s case, however, losing this lawsuit means that the individuals could be paying the potential $15 million in punitive damages out of their own personal assets.
By way of inference, it can be asserted here that involvement in the alleged wrongdoing against Davenport may include the Utah Board of Regents, Commissioner of Higher Education David Buhler, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the Washington County Justice Court, and the City of St. George. John Pike sits on the Board of Trustees at DSU and serves as the mayor for the city that brought the assault charges against Davenport on the school’s behalf.
Attorney Aaron Prisbrey described the lawsuit in summation, stating that it was brought about first by the illegal and wrongful termination of Varlo Davenport by DSU. What followed was an illegal and wrongful attempt to cover up the wrongful termination, which would include a possible malicious and wrongful prosecution of Davenport by the City of St. George.
Davenport said he is relieved to be at this point in the process, although he acknowledges there may be a long road ahead.
I encourage you to read this complaint in its entirety and to follow with great interest the proceedings that follow. It could very well be you someday.
In the meantime, I think it would not be unreasonable at this point to ask that the defendants named in this case be suspended from their jobs and positions pending the outcome of this suit. Especially Biff Williams.
One has to wonder if anyone would object to the defendants in this case being treated with the same measure they treated Davenport or others.
Going back to the immunity the school is covered by under the 11th Amendment, what needs to be understood here is that the immunity is to protect an institution from being sued in its entirety for the actions of an employee. So for instance, if a professor commits a civil tort against a student, the school would not be subject to suit but rather is immune though still required to indemnify the actions of its employees.
In the case of DSU, however, it could be reasonably asserted here that given that the individuals named here are the president, vice president, deans of departments, law enforcement officials, board of trustee members, and the Utah Attorney General’s Office, this is in effect the entire institution acting in unlawful, malicious, and moblike ways to exact with impunity the personal and hostile agendas of members of the administration and staff. Furthermore, this is being done under color of law and protection of the 11th Amendment. It is rapaciously egregious, and it appears to be more than just a pattern but rather a theme of the institution.
I would like to invite journalists and citizens alike to join in an investigation into DSU as it pertains to its financial and administrative dealings and just how many people’s lives have been similarly affected or damaged by this institution and perhaps its accomplices over the last couple of decades. In particular, I would like to see the whistleblower site the school maintains investigated and those who perpetuated it brought into the open so that justice may be served if and where needed. It needs to be removed, and the school should be made to operate under legitimate legal policies as well as state and federal laws.
What is done to one of us is done to all of us.
I can be reached in confidence or on the record at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you out there.