Utah – Lauren McCluskey gave the officer explicit photos of herself in the hope that campus police would help protect her from the man who was blackmailing her – the man who killed her a little more than a week later in a tragedy that rocked the University of Utah.
In the days leading to the 21-year-old student-athlete’s death in October 2018 – the end of a flawed response, according to a review – the officer she entrusted with her pictures allegedly showed them to his male colleague, The Salt Lake Tribune’s Courtney Tanner reported Sunday. James McConkie, an attorney for McCluskey’s parents, echoed the allegation in a statement Monday.
The officer, Miguel Deras, bragged about being able to look at the photos he had downloaded to his personal cellphone, McConkie alleged. A top Utah public safety official told The Tribune that Deras’ alleged handling of the images could be a policy violation and lead to actions against his certification or to criminal prosecution.
“The person who was supposed to provide police services to Lauren instead exploited her,” McCluskey’s mother, Jill McCluskey, said in a statement. “I wish he had used his time to arrest Lauren’s killer rather than ogling at her image.”
The killing led to an independent review of the university’s response after McCluskey told campus police that she was scared of her ex-boyfriend, whom she had broken up with after she discovered that he was a registered sex offender who had lied to her about his name, age and criminal record. McCluskey’s parents last year filed a $56 million lawsuit, which is set for mediation Tuesday and Wednesday.
Deras, who resigned from the university’s police force amid an uproar over the McCluskey case and moved to the Logan Police Department, could not be reached for comment about the allegations against him.
University spokesperson Chris Nelson said in a statement that the school’s police department completed an internal investigation into the allegations in February 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.”
No officers reported such behaviour at the time it allegedly happened, Nelson said. He added that the police department had since revised its process for storing evidence.
Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said in a statement that he was unaware of the allegations against Deras until they appeared in The Tribune. Jensen wrote that the allegations are “difficult to read” and “very serious in nature,” but he urged the public to remember that they are accusations.
“Please be patient while we consult with the University of Utah Police Department, who has reportedly already done an in-depth internal investigation, on this very claim, including interviews of co-workers, employees and a forensic download of this officer’s phone,” he wrote. “Reportedly, throughout their investigation, there was no evidence to substantiate any part of the claim.”
Jensen said that if his department finds evidence substantiating the allegations against Deras, “we will take appropriate action.”
McConkie, the McCluskeys’ attorney, said at a news conference Monday that Deras should not be a Utah police officer.
“The officer could have committed a crime, showing without consent a private picture,” McConkie said. That’s a possibility, and it’s a serious matter.”
State Rep. Andrew Stoddard, a Democrat, announced that in response to McCluskey’s case, he has offered a bill that would bar police from loading private images onto their personal phones. The bill would also prohibit sharing the photos with anyone not involved in the investigation.
At the time of her death, Lauren McCluskey was a communication major and a track-and-field athlete from Pullman, Washington. She was scheduled to graduate in spring 2019.
McCluskey started dating Melvin Rowland in September 2018, according to the independent review of campus police actions that was commissioned by the university. After she broke up with Rowland the next month, his friend sent her text messages urging her to kill herself.
Over the next few days, the review says, McCluskey received texts telling her that Rowland had been in an accident and was in the hospital. She then got a message that Rowland was dead, and she called campus police to report that her ex-boyfriend’s friends were trying to lure her into a trap. Police told her to call them back if the messages became threatening.
McCluskey reported the next day that Rowland was demanding $1,000 and threatening that personal photos of her would end up online if she did not comply. She paid the money, according to the review.
The morning of Oct. 22, 2018, McCluskey got a text message purportedly from the deputy police chief asking her to come to the station. She reported it to police and did not answer the text.
At about 8:20 p.m.,university police got a report of a possible abduction in a residence hall’s parking lot. Students told police they heard an argument and then gunshots.
Police found McCluskey’s body about 1:30 a.m. in a parked car near a residential hall and put the campus on lockdown while they searched for Rowland, who was a suspect. Rowland, 37, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a Salt Lake City church.
The review found that Rowland manipulated McCluskey to make money and that he created the impression that he and McCluskey were being extorted, though he was actually the culprit.
“When Lauren refused to go along with his manipulation and reported his actions to the police, he stalked and killed her,” according to the review.
The review flagged several problems with the university’s handling of McCluskey’s case, including that no officers checked Rowland’s offender status, their contact with McCluskey was not face-to-face and they were not sufficiently trained in responding to such violence.
The Washington Post
By Hannah Knowles, Marisa Iati