UPDATE 5/18/2020: New allegations have surfaced against a former University of Utah officer assigned to the McCluskey case claiming he showed off explicit photos of her to another officer. Click the link to follow updates on that story.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Is the University of Utah a safe campus for students? Does campus police adequately respond to reports concerning safety? Should students be apart of the oversight board to ensure accountability of campus safety efforts?
The topic of campus safety still remains divided at the University of Utah and the answers you get may vary depending on who you ask. One year after the on-campus murder of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey, we are taking a look back at the events that have transpired since her death.
October 25, 2018: Three days after McCluskey’s murder, the University of Utah began an extensive review of campus safety and police department protocol. President Ruth Watkins said the university initiated two separate reviews – one on campus safety and one “specifically focused on the actions the department took in response to Lauren’s original complaint.”
“We are determined as a university to learn from this tragedy and to ensure that what we can do better at the University of Utah happens. We’re committed to doing everything we can to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again on our campus,” said Watkins.
November 1, 2018: A report showed University of Utah Police knew that Melvin Rowland, McCluskey’s murderer and ex-boyfriend had a sex offender history as they were investigating her extortion case. But did not contact Adult Probation and Parole.
“We […] did not believe that there was enough evidence at that time to share with other law enforcement. Our current investigative process is to gather evidence that supports the claim, and make contact with the suspect,” said University Police Chief Dale Brophy.
November 2, 2018: President Watkins announced the appointment of three law enforcement professionals to conduct two reviews on campus safety following McCluskey’s death. In the meantime, the university began implementing a list of actions to improve campus safety including the evaluation of housing policies and procedures as well as additional training across campus.
December 19, 2019: Results from an independent review team are released, showing that the University of Utah Police Department was woefully understaffed, which created an availability issue for McCluskey.
The system to check Rowland’s offender status also failed because it didn’t recognize his driver’s license number and parole agents weren’t notified that he was breaking parole. University officials shared the list of recommendations made by the review team to improve campus safety.
January 17, 2019: University of Utah released audio recordings from the phone calls made between McCluskey, her mother, and police before she was murdered. The recordings dated back as far as two weeks before her death, showing that campus police had been requested to escort McCluskey when meeting up with Rowland to pick up her car.
Later phone calls indicated McCluskey told dispatchers she was concerned about being extorted. She eventually reached out to Salt Lake City Police Department’s dispatch, hoping it would speed things up with University Police. A week later, she made another call explaining that she never heard back from an officer about her concerns.
On the night of her murder, a Washington police dispatcher transferred a 911 call from her dad to University Police. He is heard in the audio recording saying, “Hi. My daughter Lauren McCluskey was talking to her mom and then she just started saying ‘No, No, No, No, No’ and it sounded like someone might have been grabbing her or something.”
February 12, 2019: The University of Utah Board of Trustees received a full briefing on 30 recommendations to keep students and faculty safe. President Watkins said she would ensure that every recommendation would be put into place as quickly as possible. She told media that she decided not to fire anyone who was working in ‘good faith’ in the events leading up to and after Lauren’s death.
March 5, 2019: Matt McCluskey, Lauren’s father traveled to Utah from Washington to testify before a Senate Committee in favor of S.B. 134, a campus safety bill that would require college and universities to develop safety plans, safety training, and also would mandate a statewide system of sharing information related to domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
“This bill, is, in some sense, written in blood,” he said during his testimony.
June 27, 2019: Lauren’s parents, Jill and Matt McCluskey filed a $56 million lawsuit against the University of Utah. Their family attorney, James McConkie said Lauren’s death was “preventable” and that the murder occurred because of the university’s failure to respond to Lauren’s repeated complaints against Melvin Rowland.
Jill McCluskey said that she “tried to work with Watkins to remedy the system and hold individuals accountable. But Watkins never responded to her email.” Matt McCluskey claimed this was a ‘last resort to affect positive change.’
Brophy wrote in an email to the University’s Department of Public Safety, “After 25 years in law enforcement, I have decided to retire and pursue other opportunities. I will serve my last day as the director of public safety here at the University on October 15, 2019. This has not been an easy decision, but the timing is right. This move will open a new chapter for me and provide the department an opportunity to continue forward under new leadership.”
August 15, 2019: University of Utah officials announced it will invest nearly $1 million in campus safety efforts. As part of the efforts, University President Ruth Watkins said she will hire a chief safety officer that will coordinate and oversee safety initiatives on campus.
She said she has accepted all recommendations from the task force and over time the university will invest $925,000 to implement them. That’s in addition to the $6 million already planned for other measures such as hiring more security officers for Health Sciences buildings and installing new security systems in older campus housing units.
Documents indicated the request was made because “harassment perpetrated by a non-student, non-employee, with no University affiliation, cannot be the basis of a Title IX claim against the University as the University does not have the ‘substantial control’ of such an individual required for the implied cause of action judicially created under Title IX.”
September 24, 2019: The assembly of the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) passed a resolution regarding language used in the university’s motion to a judge to dismiss the McCluskey family’s lawsuit.
The resolution stated:
“Be it resolved that the Associated Students of the University of Utah are disappointed by the language used in the University’s motion to dismiss all charges.
Be it further resolved that the Associated Students of the University of Utah are concerned that the University of Utah has expressed that the University Police Department has no responsibility to protect students on campus when the threats involve parties who are not current students at the University of Utah.
Be it further resolved that the Associated Students of the University of Utah are opposed to statements made by the University of Utah that have been widely interpreted as victim-blaming as part of this lawsuit.”
October 14, 2019: A group of University of Utah students from the campus safety advocate group, unsafeU issued a declaration of protest, saying university officials have not done enough to improve campus safety and demanding a meeting with President Ruth Watkins.
The declaration stated, “This administration has maintained the position that we are the sole cause of the violence committed against us” and “We assert that victims are never responsible for their own harassment, their own assault, or their own abuse, and are especially never, ever responsible for their own murder.”
It also included a list of demands such as establishing a permanent student oversight board for campus safety that would be able to hold hearings, investigate patterns of misconduct, and independently review campus safety initiatives.
October 22, 2019: On the day before the one-year anniversary of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey’s murder on the University of Utah, nearly 200 students stood outside of the Park Building in President’s Circle joined unsafeU in protesting the school administration’s response to student safety concerns.
The student group originally asked to meet with President Ruth Watkins by the day of the protest. But Purser said Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Dan Reed and Vice President for Student Affairs Lori McDonald met with students that morning. In a statement to media, they said they agreed to carefully review students’ suggestions and then plan a follow-up meeting to respond to the petition in full.
“We welcome feedback from students. We certainly applaud students for caring about such an important issue and respect their right to exercise protest on campus. We know that it has been a difficult year for our students and we want to hear from them,” said Purser. “They have a perspective that the administration doesn’t always have access to. We know that it’s a journey that will be on-going and we want to continue to hear student voices and input as we move forward in that process.”