Two years ago, the on-campus murder of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey made national news and has since launched lawsuits and forced policy change at the school.
Over the last month, the case has seen major developments. On Oct. 15, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office would not charge former U. police officer Miguel Deras, who shared compromising photos of McCluskey.
In the days and weeks leading up to her murder, McCluskey spoke to campus police with concerns for her safety, according to reports. Her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland, tried blackmailing McCluskey and threatened to send explicit images of her to people she knew. In response, McCluskey sent the photos to Deras as evidence.
Deras left the department after McCluskey’s murder. He joined the Logan Police Department but was fired on Aug. 7 after a report conducted by the U. found evidence he saved the photos and shared the images outside of the investigation. Deras, the report said, showed the images to at least three other male colleagues.
When the allegations first came to light, Gill said that he reached out to the university’s police department, stating that this was “unacceptable behavior.” After the report, Gill said he looked for ways to charge Deras.
According to Gill, the best chance to prosecute the former officer was to use the revenge porn statute.
“You’d have to prove the use of this evidence as unlawful,” Gill said. “You’d have to demonstrate that these photos were offensive, and you have to show actual harm to the person which anticipated that the person was alive.”
This was the best possible statute Gill had to work with, he said, but in the end his office “couldn’t find any statute to charge him with.”
“We were just as offended as everybody else … unfortunately, our moral outrage cannot alone carry the [case] if we don’t have a law in point,” Gill said.
The U. underwent several changes after the investigation.
“We will continue to strive to be better, to hold each other accountable and to serve our community with the utmost integrity,” new U. police chief Rodney Chatman said in a statement on Aug. 5, after confirming Deras had shared McCluskey’s photos. “We cannot ignore our past, and this report is a stark reminder of why our work moving forward is so important.”
U. communications director Chris Nelson said the institution is in “a transformational moment.” Nelson said the school has increased various aspects of safety on campus, including hiring a new chief safety officer.
“The departments didn’t communicate with each other as effectively as we had thought,” Nelson said. “We had many systems in place, but they needed to be better connected.”
On Oct. 22, two years to the day after McCluskey’s murder, the U. acknowledged that her death was “preventable” and reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with her parents, according to a statement from the school.
“The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have, and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation,” President Ruth Watkins read from the statement during a press conference.
The $13.5 million settlement will be split into a $10.5 million payment to the McCluskey family and a charitable donation of $3 million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation by March 31, 2021. The U. has also pledged to raise funds to construct an indoor track facility by Dec. 31, 2030, “that will bear the name Lauren McCluskey or jointly her name and that of a major donor to the facility.”
The U. will also rename the newly launched Center for Violence Prevention as the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention.