UPDATE: New University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman issued a statement Monday evening in response to the Salt Lake Tribune’s article. He said after personally reviewing the report and consulting with the university’s chief safety officer, he ordered a new investigation to be completed by an outside agency.
“If this is true, it is a serious breach of trust and a violation of professional law enforcement standards and the officer must be held accountable by the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST),” the statement wrote.
He went on to say, “Once this report is completed, we will release it publicly. At that time, I will take questions and determine what, if any, personnel actions may be required based on our findings. In the interim, I have placed individuals responsible for the original investigation on administrative leave pending the results of this new review.”
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – “Reopening old wounds” – That’s how Jill and Matt McCluskey, parents of murdered University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, described their feelings when initially finding out about the new details in their daughter’s case. They spoke out in a press conference Monday afternoon through a video call at their attorneys’ office.
An article first posted Sunday by the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Miguel Deras, a former officer with University of Utah Police and one of several who was assigned to Lauren’s case not only ignored her pleas for help, but allegedly mishandled the explicit photos in her investigation.
Lauren initially reached out to campus police in Fall 2018 to report concerns that she was being blackmailed by someone who had explicit photos she had taken of herself.
When Deras received the photos she submitted for the investigation, he allegedly “showed off at least one of the images to a male co-worker and bragged about getting to look at them whenever he wanted, according to two fellow officers.”
Lauren was consequently killed on campus by her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland who then committed suicide on October 22, 2018. She had called University of Utah Campus Police more than 20 times for help leading up to her murder.
The McCluskeys and their attorneys, james McConkie and Brad Parker spoke on the new accusations during Monday’s press conference.
“We are saddened that an officer at the University of Utah campus police did not take our daughter, Lauren’s reports seriously that a man was extorting and stalking her. [She] expected Officer Miguel Deras to arrest this man when she provided evidence against him. It would have been straightforward to detain him, since he was a felon on parole,” said McCluskey’s mother, Jill.
She went on to say, “It turns out that the only thing Officer Deras did was download the photos that Lauren provided as evidence to his personal phone to use for his own enjoyment. I wish he had used his time to arrest Lauren’s killer rather than ogling at her image.”
Her parents are asking university officials to admit their wrongdoing.
“It took a lot of courage to send evidence of extortion to the police. For that and so much more, I am proud of her,” said McCluskey’s father, Matt.
He added, “This latest revelation, made long after Lauren’s murder makes me wonder how much misconduct remains undiscovered. The officer’s behavior was not isolated, it stemmed from a culture that did not take women seriously and refused to hold individuals accountable.”
McConkie said Officer Deras re-victimized Lauren by intentionally sharing highly confidential information with an unauthorized person for what appeared to be “prurient reasons.”
“The allegations have therefore expanded. Up to this point, the accusations involved the failure to respond and protect Lauren from a dangerous person. Now, as her mother eloquently stated, we must ask the question, ‘Why [did] the people who were supposed to help Lauren were actually exploiting her?'” said McConkie.
In a statement to ABC4 News Monday morning, the University of Utah issued this response about the Salt Lake Tribune’s article:
“The University of Utah Police Department completed an internal affairs investigation in February 2020 once it was alerted to these allegations and found no evidence that a former officer had “bragged” or shared any image from the investigation that wasn’t considered a legitimate law enforcement reason. This was based on interviews with multiple officers who would have been present at briefings during this time period. No officers, currently or previously employed ever reported this at the time of occurrence. Because there was no finding, the incident was not reported to POST. The department has changed its processes for collecting and storing evidence of this nature to ensure this isn’t an issue moving forward.”
McConkie said other victims will be reluctant to come forward if the university continues to take the position that nothing they could have done would have prevented Lauren’s death.
“Especially if they (victims) believe that University Police will treat their concerns as lightly and even go so far as to victimize them,” he said.
In June last year, they filed a $56 million lawsuit against the University of Utah claiming the university failed to admit that they were responsible for Lauren’s death as a result of their oversight and shortcomings. That lawsuit is pending in federal court.
A second lawsuit on the state level, which has not been filed yet, will take into account the most recent accusations against the officer, McConkie said. Parker said the McCluskeys agreed to work with university officials before filing the second state-level lawsuit.
“Every time a new disclosure like this has come out, it just opens the scars and wounds of Jill and Matt McCluskey and they are injured over and over again. One thing we want is the university to be open and honest about what occurred, ” he said.
The McCluskeys and their family attorneys are scheduled to enter into mediation with university officials and their legal representatives on Tuesday and Wednesday. McConkie said if mediation is unsuccessful, the new details in the Salt Lake Tribune’s report will be included in their new complaint as part of their second state-level lawsuit.
“Jill and Matt McCluskey’s wounds could not be deeper and their attempts to heal in ways that honor their extraordinary daughter could not be more difficult. But the McCluskeys are not just once harmed. Every time there is a new revelation of undisclosed dysfunction at the university, deep and tender wounds are again reopened, and [they] are senselessly and deeply harmed again,” said Parker.
Deras is now employed with the Logan Police Department. On Sunday, the department announced it would launch an internal investigation into the officer accused of showing explicit pictures of murder victim Lauren McCluskey and will “take whatever action is appropriate based on the facts we discover.”
Several of Utah’s leaders and lawmakers have already reacted to the most recent claims against the former University of Utah officer, saying they are taking steps to review campus police protocols to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
The university said in its media statement that administrators have made significant changes to practices, policies, personnel, and physical infrastructure including:
- Naming a new chief safety officer and police chief
- Completing items identified by the independent review team enlisted in 2018 and recommendations made by the campus safety task force
- Requiring specific trainings for various entities on campus, clarifying reporting structures, revising policies, and holding all employees accountable for strict compliance with these policies
- Appointing Chris Linder as a special assistant to support violence prevention and education efforts on campus
- Launching an Interpersonal Violence Prevention & Education Collective comprised of students, staff and faculty that works on primary prevention strategies using a power-conscious, equitable lens
- Receiving $300,000 from the Office on Violence Against Women, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, to bring together external resources and services and comprehensive preventative strategies to improve outreach, awareness and prevent violence on the university campus
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