University Police Chief not on administrative leave, despite allegations

As a response to allegations against University Police Chief Donn Peterson, which includes miscategorization of certain crimes and possible racist remarks made toward fellow officers, Humboldt State University has begun to move forward with its plans to have an independent investigation. 

I am incredibly grateful and enthusiastic for the opportunity to work with this established and well-respected law enforcement assessment firm. I am eager to speak with their investigators. I am absolutely committed to transparency, and really looking forward to fully cooperating with their inquiry.”

UPD Police Chief Donn Peterson

In an email sent out on Oct. 17, Vice President for Administration and Finance, Douglas Dawes informed the campus that the Office of Independent Review (OIR) has been hired to conduct an investigation.

“As part of our response, the University has retained the OIR Group to investigate the allegations, complaints, and any related matters,” Dawes said. “We’re looking forward to working with this established and well-respected law enforcement assessment firm.” 

Dawes confirmed later in an interview Oct. 16 that Peterson would be staying in his position while the investigation proceeded and would not be put on administrative leave. According to Dawes, it was discussed, but never considered.

“Given the circumstances, we did not think it was necessary,” Dawes said.

In an email interview on Oct. 23, Peterson was open to the inquiry, stating that the OIR Group is led by some of the nation’s leading experts on police practices and oversight.

“I am incredibly grateful and enthusiastic for the opportunity to work with this established and well-respected law enforcement assessment firm. I am eager to speak with their investigators. I am absolutely committed to transparency, and really looking forward to fully cooperating with their inquiry,” Peterson said.  

He declined to comment further on the details of the allegations, stating that he wished to respect the investigation as it unfolded.

Both Dawes and Peterson stated that the investigation would not impede the duties of the university’s police officers to respond to incidents on campus and would work naturally with all involved, something that UPD Officer and Statewide University Police Association Union Director for HSU Billy Kijsriopas reiterated.

One of the main allegations that Kijsriopas hoped to be explored is the way certain crimes have been handled and miscategorized. According to Kijsriopas in a phone interview on Oct. 18, a directive was given that caused certain cases to be cleared without any progress being made. That meant that certain cases, such as instances of vandalism or theft on campus, were created and then closed without any arrests being made or items being recovered.

In an Oct. 2 interview with the North Coast Journal, Peterson stated that the change was made at the recommendation of Sun Ridge Systems RIMS, the group that provides the software to create safety reports. While no legal precedent exists to mandate these changes, Kijsriopas said that it is still happening within the department.

“I don’t know why the cases changed to this direction, but I know that it is still occurring,” Kijsriopas said. “We have not gotten any directives to change this.” 

Peterson declined to comment or confirm whether or not this practice was still occurring, citing his previous desire to not interfere with the investigation as it proceeds.

While Dawes did mention that there may be updates as the investigation proceeded, students will have to wait for the investigation to be completed to learn more. He also could not guarantee that students will be able to access the full report when it is finished.

“We will have to wait for the report to be out for the ramifications to be understood to the fullest,” Dawes said.

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