The Justice Files: SUU failed to ‘protect me’ says student

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – When Lauren McCluskey was murdered in 2018 another college student was horrified.

Kinley Nelson said she was going through similar problems with Southern Utah University.

“It was terrifying because I was going through the same thing,” said Nelson.

Only difference was that Nelson survived and McCluskey was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.  McCluskey’s family blamed the University of Utah and campus police for not heeding their daughter’s call for help.

“I was terrified that I was going to be the next Lauren McCluskey,” said Nelson.  “I didn’t want that to happen.”

For Nelson, it began right after she enrolled at SUU in 2017 as a music major. In one of her music classes she was paired with a male student.  They would assist each other during the semester.  But he became her nightmare.  

“He started making sexual comments towards me,” Nelson said.  “He started coming to my apartment late at night and in the morning and started becoming more manipulative.”

After her many rejections, the male student tried to kill himself later during the school year.  She said he blamed her for spurning his advances.  Nelson reported it to the dean of students who advised her to contact the school’s Title IX representative.

“Title IX told me to file a police report and take it to the courts,” she said.

She filed a stalking complaint and got a protective order.  The student was told not to have any contact with her or face criminal charges. Nelson returned to class but so was the male student.  In fact, she said he sat next to her. After class she advised the professor about the stalking injunction.

“That professor says he didn’t see anything,” Nelson said.  “He wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. and that terrified me.”

She filed a complaint with campus police but was told the injunction didn’t apply on campus.  She spoke with the city prosecutor who advised the police that it was effective on campus.  The male student was charged with a violation of the injunction, a class A misdemeanor. Months later when he continued to approach Nelson he was cited again.  Nelson said she sought protection from Title IX as well as her music professor. But Nelson said the professor kicked her out of the class.

“(The male student) was being valued more than me,” she said. “I was the victim.  I was the one going through this terrifying experience, not knowing if I was going to be safe going to class everyday.  And yet I was the one taken out of classes and my opportunities were taken away.”

Her parents complained and Nelson was reinstated but had to compete for the music position again. Meanwhile, the male student continued to attend the same classes as Nelson.  They asked for a Title IX investigation and produced evidence of the criminal charges.  By that time, he had pleaded guilty in both cases.

“A few weeks later,  Title IX informed me that they decided he didn’t do anything that I said he did,” she said.  “(They said) he wasn’t guilty.”

And just like McCluskey’s parents, Nelson is suing SUU for failing to protect her.

“Title IX is quite clear,” said her attorney Mike Young.  “At the point where someone is being harassed, stalked pursued in the way Kinley was in this matter, the university has an obligation  to do something to help her to continue to take classes in fact they did the opposite.”

 Nelson said her passion for music ended.  She switched majors in an effort to distance herself from the male student while continuing her education at SUU. But she said she is not backing down.

“I want women to be heard,” she said. “I want them to be believed and feel supported when they feel like they’re in danger.”

Southern Utah University released the following statement:

Southern Utah University has notice of Ms. Nelson’s lawsuit. SUU generally does not comment on pending litigation. This matter is being handled by the Utah Attorney General’s Office who represents SUU. Southern Utah University is a place where the safety of our students is the top priority.

Jason Nguyen
Jason Nguyen is an award-winning reporter and photojournalist who is back with ABC4 News as the lead reporter on Good Morning Utah, bringing over a decade of news experience to the team.

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