was an LDS church member and BYU professor in Provo, Utah; charged with sexually abusing three students; entered a plea bargain in May 2023 in which he agreed to plead no contest to three class A misdemeanor charges of sexual battery, complete 24 months of probation, do 50 hours of community service, and take a sexual boundaries course; sentenced in June 2023 according to the plea deal

Case Summary

Utah Case #20140964, offender ID number 259586

Michael Clay was a Mormon church member and BYU professor in Provo, Utah.

FLOODLIT’s sources report that Clay once served as a young men’s president and a scoutmaster in his Mormon ward in Utah.

In May 2023, Clay agreed to plead no contest to three class A misdemeanor charges of sexual battery.

On June 26, 2023, Clay was sentenced according to the plea deal terms.

from the Deseret News on June 25, 2020:

“PROVO — A Springville man was charged Thursday with sexually abusing a student while he was an associate professor at Brigham Young University.

Michael James Clay, 45, is charged in 4th District Court with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

Clay was head of the Urban and Regional Planning in the Geography Department at BYU, according to his online bio.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins on Thursday said Clay has not been an employee of the university since about mid-April and referred all other questions to the Utah County Attorney’s Office.

Between January and March he was in charge of the program at the school the student was involved with, according to charging documents.

“(Clay) has the authority to hire interns and teaching assistants in connection with this program. (He) told the victim that if she trusted him more, he might be able to hire her but that he wanted to wait to see how she improved. (Clay) told the victim that he is very powerful in the victim’s field of study,” according to the charges.

During a meeting with Clay, the woman, who is originally from another country, said she told him she “was having some emotional difficulties.”

“(Clay) told the victim that he could make her feel better and make all the negative feelings go away,” according to the charges. “(Clay) said he could work on her disorders and the negative feelings and that he could be her emotional and physical support. The victim considered (Clay) to be a mentor and a therapist.”

The woman said she met with Clay more than 20 times in his office. During that time, she said he would play “meditation music” and “told the victim that his office was a safe place and that she should not tell anyone what went on there,” the charges state.

Clay also told the woman to delete the text messages he would send her, according to BYU police.

“(He) told the victim that she needed to change her body chemistry and that she needed to practice how to be a good wife and that (he) could help her,” the charges state. At one point, the woman talked about meeting with a counselor or psychiatrist, but Clay told her that “meeting with him was more effective.”

Other text messages included Clay telling the woman he thought they were “making good progress” and that his job was to “help (her) on the inside” and that maybe they should see each other more often, the charges allege.

“On one occasion, (Clay) gave the victim a priesthood blessing. On another occasion, (he) told the victim that he had prayed about her and felt inspired from God to engage in physical contact with the victim,” according to charging documents.

Sometime between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15, Clay drove the woman up a canyon in Utah County touched the woman’s buttocks over her clothing, the charges state. “(Clay) asked if it was OK. The victim said it was OK because she felt like she had to say yes.”

During a meeting in February in Clay’s office, Clay had the woman sit on his lap by straddling him, according to the charges.

“(Clay) asked the victim if she enjoyed it. The victim said she did not and that it kind of hurt. (He) said the victim needed to practice and to try to connect more. (Clay) led the victim to believe that this was somehow therapy for past issues,” the charging documents say.

Clay did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.”

from the Salt Lake Tribune on May 18, 2023:

“Ex-BYU professor takes plea deal in case involving sexual battery of three female students
Michael James Clay, originally charged with felonies, has pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts.

(Tribune file photo) The BYU campus in Provo on Wednesday June 1, 2016. On Monday, May 8, 2023, former BYU professor Michael James Clay pleaded no contest to sexual battery charges involving three of his female students.

The first Brigham Young University student who reported Michael James Clay to police said the professor told her he was inspired by God to touch her — even after she told him she wasn’t comfortable with it.

Then two more women came forward with similar allegations, saying Clay also abused his position as their teacher and their boss. One of the women said he misrepresented his role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates BYU, and gave her a blessing to seek counseling from him; he was not qualified to provide therapy. Both said he pushed his body against theirs, while he reminded them of the control he had over their futures.

The now-former professor was eventually charged with seven felonies, which Utah County prosecutors later trimmed to three counts of forcibly sexually abusing the three female students. Clay, 48, was scheduled to stand trial last week.

But in a plea deal with prosecutors, Clay has instead pleaded no contest to three misdemeanors. And while Clay signed a statement acknowledging he touched the women and “should have known it would cause affront or alarm,” his attorneys contend the former professor was wrongfully accused and maintains his innocence.

“When a person is assailed by allegations of sexual harassment, especially in the present social circumstance, and suffers the resources of the government on the side of the accuser, the accused may chose to plead no contest to misdemeanors and move his life forward,” they said in an emailed statement. “That is the path that Mr. Clay has chosen.”

The Utah County Attorney’s Office, which has prosecuted the case, did not respond to a request for comment about the plea agreement.

In the deal, which a judge has approved, Clay agreed to two years of probation, some community service and counseling on sexual boundaries. His formal sentencing hearing is set for June 26.

Clay was the previous head of the Urban and Regional Planning program in the Geography Department at BYU. His case drew widespread attention when he was first charged in 2020, in connection with the first woman who reported to police.

The school said his employment there ended in April 2020.

A little more than a year later, two more students reported to campus police that they had similar interactions with Clay, where he allegedly groped them and threatened to withhold letters of recommendation and job opportunities if they told anyone; Clay was in a unique position where he had sole control over opportunities in the program. The allegations with all three women spanned from 2017 to 2020.

Clay “used his position as a university professor, employer and priesthood holder in the LDS Church to control and manipulate the young women,” charging documents alleged. “… In doing so, defendant took advantage of the victims and manipulated them for the purpose of sexual gratification.”

Additional charges were added at that time. A four-day trial for Clay had been slated to start Monday.

Clay was a professor of the three women and offered to counsel each as they told him about their personal struggles, according to police documents, though he was not qualified to do so.

The first woman who came forward said she met with Clay more than 20 times, and he would tell her that his “office was a safe place and that she should not tell anyone what went on there,” she told officers. According to BYU Police, Clay instructed the woman to delete any texts he sent her.

At the start of 2020, the woman said, Clay drove her up a canyon in Utah County and touched her over her clothes. She told police she felt she had to say “yes” because of the authority Clay had over her at school.

He allegedly told her that he had prayed and felt inspired by God to fondle her. Later, in February 2020, the woman said Clay asked her to straddle his lap, according to the charges. She told him to stop touching her, but she said he didn’t.

With all of the students, Clay allegedly initiated private counseling sessions, they said, and misrepresented himself as a religious leader in the LDS Church who could offer them blessings. With two of the women, Clay also supervised them in non-campus jobs at his private firm.

Police say he leveraged that control over them.

The second woman to report said she began working for Clay around January 2017. His long hugs, she told police, turned into him holding her and fondling her. He also asked her intimate questions about her sexual experiences, she alleged. She, too, said Clay pushed her to straddle him.

“She stated that defendant was not only her boss at the university and at his private firm, but her progress in her field of study was at defendant’s sole discretion,” according to charging documents, which also said Clay “often reminded victim of that fact.”

She said he also used their shared religion to “manipulate her into feeling a certain way.”

The third woman was a student and intern at his private firm, as well. She said she was groped by Clay from January 2018 through December 2019 and that the then-professor also would grind his body up against her. He additionally asked her inappropriate questions, she said.

The charging documents stated: “When defendant discussed these things, he said he had a rule that what was said in his office stayed in his office, indicated that if she told people what he said that he could not trust her, and said that he would never recommend anyone for jobs if he could not trust that person.””

from ABC4 on May 19, 2023:

“EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of the article reported Clay pleaded guilty to charges, when instead he pleaded no contest. We apologize for the error.

PROVO, Utah (ABC4) — The former BYU professor charged with sexual battery of his student interns and employees accepted a plea deal.

Michael James Clay, 49, was initially charged with seven counts of forcible sexual abuse, all 2nd-degree felonies, to which he pleaded not guilty. The charges were amended to three counts of sexual battery, all class A misdemeanors, to which he pleaded no contest.

Previous to his charges, Clay was a geography department professor at BYU. In June 2020, Clay was accused of sexually abusing one of his former students. Two other students later came forward with similar allegations.

According to the court documents, Clay had sole control over the geography department and was able to hire students to perform research using university funds. Clay also hired students through his private firm, the document states.

“[Clay] used his position as a university professor, employer, and priesthood holder in the LDS Church to control and manipulate young women,” the court document states.

In approximately January 2017, a BYU student was working for Clay and performing research for him both at BYU and at his private firm. According to court documents, she told Clay she was experiencing personal problems and began to meet with him in his office. She said the visits became more regular often two to three times per week until they stopped in March 2020 due to covid.

When the student first started going to Clay’s office, she said he would greet her with a hug. She said the hugs got progressively longer, making her uncomfortable. Eventually, the hugs turned into him holding her moving his hands down her back and holding her butt.

Clay told the student that they needed to meditate to help her with her anxiety. He would reportedly talk to her about her sex life and tell her that meditation was important for a healthy sex life. During the meetings, Clay would have the student sit on his lap straddling him for around 20 minutes.

According to court documents, the student told Clay she was considering getting a therapist instead. Clay allegedly told her she could do that if she wanted to tell her feelings to someone who didn’t care about her, or she could continue meeting with him because he actually understood and cared for her.

The student told officials that while she did not want to participate in the touching, she was afraid of refusing to do what Clay wanted. She said not only was Clay her boss at the university and at his private firm, but her progress in her field of study was at his sole discretion. Reportedly, Clay would often remind her of that fact, and give her priesthood blessings to try to manipulate her into feeling a certain way.

Between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2019, another female student was an intern and employee at his private firm. As with the first victim, Clay allegedly manipulated her into having counseling sessions with him. Clay reportedly told her that he had single-handedly put together the broken pieces of many girls, and if she wanted to feel Heavenly Father’s love, she would need to talk to him.

The student said that their counseling sessions quickly turned into talking almost exclusively about sexual things and then into physical contact. Clay also engaged in ecclesiastical abuse to accomplish his abuse of the student, the court record states.

He would allegedly frequently tell her she was out of spiritual alignment and held a “tea ceremony” to help her. During the ceremony, he allegedly asked her to pledge her obedience to him. The victim said she eventually agreed, but later that day told him she would no longer be able to attend their weekly meetings over the summer. Clay reportedly said if she wasn’t going to commit to something, he no longer needed her to come to internship meetings.

In early 2020, Clay reportedly began meeting with a third BYU student and told her that he was very powerful in her field of study, and may be able to give her an internship if she trusted him. She said she expressed to Clay that she was having some emotional difficulties, and Clay told her he could make her negative feelings go away. They met in his office around 20 times, the student reported.

Clay allegedly told the student his office was a safe place and not to tell anyone what went on there. He told her he could be her emotional and physical support. They would communicate via text messages, and Clay allegedly told her to delete the messages and wanted to check her phone to make sure she deleted them.

Sometime between mid-January 2020 and February 2020, Clay drove the student up the canyon, and after walking outside they got in the backseat of his car. Clay then allegedly touched her inappropriately and asked if it was okay with her. She said okay because she said she felt like she had to say yes.

On one occasion, Clay told the student he felt inspired by God to engage in physical contact. She said she believed him at the time. On Feb. 19 or 20, they met in his office where Clay then allegedly touched her inappropriately. The student told Clay “That’s enough” and “I’m good” several times before he finally stopped. According to charging documents, Clay said she needed to practice and reportedly told her it would help her.

According to court records, Clay told the student she needed to change her body chemistry and practice in order to be a good wife. At one point, the student said she was thinking about meeting with a psychiatrist, but Clay told her that meeting with him was more effective.

In March 2020, due to the pandemic, Clay allegedly stopped meeting with at least one of the victims. It was shortly after this that they came forward with their allegations.

Clay’s sentencing is scheduled for June 26 at the 4th District Court in Provo, Utah. ”

from Gephardt Daily on 2023-06-26:

“PROVO, Utah, June 26, 2023 (Gephardt Daily) — A former Brigham Young University associate professor accused of sexually abusing three students was sentenced Monday to two years of probation after pleading no contest to reduced charges.

Michael James Clay, 48, was charged in June 2020 with two counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, for allegedly touching students inappropriately in January and February 2020 while working in BYU’s geography department.

On May 8, Clay pleaded no contest to three class A misdemeanor counts of sexual battery, one for each student.

Clay will serve no jail time under the sentence issued by 4th District Judge Sean Petersen, who ordered the Springville man to serve 24 months of probation, 50 hours of community service and complete a sexual boundaries course. The sentence also stipulates no contact with the victims.

Clay’s statement filed in Provo’s 4th District Court says he “intentionally touched the buttocks of three adult women.”

“It was under circumstances I should have known it would cause affront or alarm,” it concludes.

Clay was no longer employed by BYU when charges were filed in June 2020.

Charging documents say the illegal touching took place in his Provo office and his vehicle.”

from KSL TV on 2023-06-26:

“PROVO, Utah — A Utah judge said the sentence for a former BYU professor who pleaded no contest to sexual battery involving students could have ended up very differently if he and the attorneys in the case hadn’t already agreed to a Rule 11 plea — which means the judge agreed to impose the sentence proposed by the attorneys before the plea was signed.

“I’ve got to say I’m very concerned. Taking advantage of innocent students is just inexcusable. There is just no room for that type of behavior and grooming in our society,” 4th District Judge Sean Petersen said Monday.

Yet Michael James Clay, 48, was sentenced to no jail time, only two years of probation.

Petersen described reading victim impact statements from two of three students who claimed they were assaulted by Clay while he was their professor at Brigham Young University.

“In reading those, Mr. Clay, if you don’t get a sense of what these victims have gone through and are going through, that is a serious problem. I do feel for these victims, the lives of these women will clearly be affected forever and that’s of great concern to me,” the judge said.

Clay was initially charged with two counts of forcible sexual abuse. After two more students came forward, he was later charged with four additional counts of forcible sexual abuse. All were second-degree felonies.

Prosecutors said the Springville man engaged in “ecclesiastical abuse to accomplish his sex abuse.” Clay told one victim he had prayed about her and felt inspired by God to engage in physical contact with her, and led her to believe that she could not turn him down, according to police.
Michael James Clay, a former BYU professor accused of sexually assaulting three students, was sentenced to two years of probation and 50 years of community service for three counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor.
Michael James Clay, a former BYU professor accused of sexually assaulting three students, was sentenced to two years of probation and 50 years of community service for three counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor. (Brigham Young University)

As part of a plea bargain with the Utah County Attorney’s Office, Clay pleaded no contest to three reduced counts of sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor, and all other charges were dismissed.

With little comment Monday from attorneys about the sentence already agreed upon — including an attorney representing two of the victims — Petersen suspended sentences of 364 days in jail for each count and instead sentenced Clay to serve 24 months of probation and 50 hours of community service. He also ordered the man to take a sexual boundaries class and have no contact with the three victims.

The judge said “there will be zero tolerance” moving forward and encouraged Clay to comply completely with the terms of the agreement.

When asked if he wanted to make a comment before the sentence, Clay told the judge he had nothing to say. In signing his plea, he wrote: “I intentionally touched the buttocks of three adult women. … I should have known it would cause affront or alarm.”

In charging documents, three BYU students reported meeting with Clay in one-on-one interactions that mirrored therapy sessions. The women told police their then-professor used religion or his position as an associate professor or their employer to manipulate them.

The first victim filed a police report against Clay in April of 2020. BYU Police Lt. Jeff Long testified that the woman is an immigrant and was trying to get into the urban development program. Clay was head of that program at the time.

Long said Clay admitted to him that he had skin-on-skin contact with the woman during a hug that was an “inadvertent touch” because the woman had a shirt with a high midriff. During the interview, Clay also confirmed he took the woman up Provo Canyon in a vehicle and said there may have been an accidental touch.

The lieutenant also said Clay confirmed that there was one point when the woman was sitting on his lap, but Clay denied the “dry humping” that the woman reported. Clay confirmed to the officer that he had given the woman money to purchase clothing, and she pulled up her shirt to expose the bottom of a bra she had purchased. Long said the woman reported he had asked her to pull up her shirt to expose the bra.

Provo police detective Scott Nielsen testified about two other victims — women who came forward after the charges related to the first woman were filed. He said another woman reported Clay touching her buttocks or tailbone during conversations about chakra.

The professor would greet the victims with hugs, which became progressively longer and eventually led to him “moving his hands down (one woman’s) back, and fondling her buttocks,” according to the charging documents, which also allege that he held meditation sessions where he would have the student sit on his lap, straddling him, while he sat on the floor.

One student told police that “although she did not want to participate with this touching, she was afraid of refusing” because Clay was her boss and professor, and her progress in her field of study was at his “sole discretion.”

Defense attorneys Cara Tangaro and Scott Williams said in a statement after the plea that Clay entered the no-contest plea because he wanted to move his life forward and put the matter behind him.”

Sources
  1. Former BYU professor charged with sexually abusing student
    view source details | 25 Jun 2020 | Deseret News
  2. Ex-BYU professor charged with sexual abuse
    view source details | 26 Jun 2020 | The Salt Lake Tribune
  3. Former BYU professor charged with sexually abusing a student pleads not guilty
    view source details | 19 Jul 2021 | The Daily Universe
  4. Former BYU professor charged with 5 additional counts of forcible sexual abuse
    view source details | 24 Jan 2022 | The Daily Universe
  5. New charges: BYU professor engaged in ‘ecclesiastical abuse’ to sexually abuse 3 students
    view source details | 25 Jan 2022 | East Idaho News
  6. Fired Geography professor at Brigham Young University - who was charged with sexually assaulting student 'after he ordered her to straddle him to align her crotch chakra' - faces five new charges from two other women at Mormon-founded Utah school
    view source details | 25 Jan 2022 | Daily Mail
  7. New charges: BYU professor engaged in ‘ecclesiastical abuse’ to sexually abuse 3 students
    view source details | 26 Jan 2022 | Deseret News
  8. Ex-BYU professor takes plea deal in case involving sexual battery of three female students
    view source details | 18 May 2023 | Salt Lake Tribune
  9. Former BYU professor pleads no contest to sexual battery of students interns
    view source details | 19 May 2023 | ABC4
  10. Former BYU professor sentenced to 2 years of probation in sex abuse case
    view source details | 26 Jun 2023 | Gephardt Daily
  11. Ex-BYU professor sentenced to 2 years of probation in student sex abuse case
    view source details | 26 Jun 2023 | KSL TV
Sources excerpts

Mormon Sexual Abuse Map

International map of locations where active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perpetrated or allegedly perpetrated sexual abuse or other sex crimes, or where LDS leaders failed or allegedly failed to help abuse survivors.