SALT LAKE CITY -- The parents of a University of Utah student killed on campus by an ex-boyfriend said Monday they feel a fresh sense of betrayal after new allegations surfaced that a police officer investigating her report kept explicit photos that were intended as evidence.
Jill and Matt McCluskey have already said in a lawsuit that university police mishandled more than 20 reports Lauren McCluskey made about stalking and harassment before her death. University officials have acknowledged mistakes but maintained the 2018 death could not have been stopped.
A Sunday report from the Salt Lake Tribune quoted two unnamed officers who said Officer Miguel Deras had explicit photos on his phone and showed at least one to a co-worker. The 21-year-old student and standout track athlete from Pullman, Washington, had submitted the photos as evidence that her ex-boyfriend was demanding money to keep them private.
“He didn’t help her at all, he didn’t try and arrest anyone he just used her for his own enjoyment without helping her case,” said mother Jill McCluskey.
University officials, for their part, said an internal investigation did not find evidence that Deras acted inappropriately. One officer reported Deras showed him a photo, but only to inquire about how to upload it to a case file, said university spokesman Chris Nelson.
“If those officers will come forward to us ... we would certainly revisit it,” he said. The department has since changed their rules so victims don’t send evidence to officers’ phones, he said.
Deras did not return messages seeking comment left at publicly listed phone numbers. He quit the university police department after failing to follow procedures revamped in the wake of Lauren McCluskey’s death. He now works as an officer in Logan, Utah, where the department has launched their own investigation of the new allegations.
The information expands the scope of a $56 million negligence case filed against the University of Utah to include claims that the officer exploited her, attorneys for the McCluskeys said.
The family alleges their daughter’s multiple reports against Melvin Shawn Rowland were not taken seriously. He began stalking and harassing her shortly after she broke up with him following a brief relationship where he lied about his name, age and personal history, police have said. Rowland shot her on campus with a borrowed gun and took his own life after the attack.
A fuller investigation would have revealed Rowland was a registered sex offender who could have easily been taken into custody because he was on parole, the lawsuit states.
The university acknowledged multiple warning signs were missed and says it’s made significant improvements since her death, including naming of a new chief safety officer and a new police chief. Still, the institution has maintained in court the family can’t sue because Rowland wasn’t a student and officials didn’t have “substantial control” over him.
Settlement talks are set to begin this week in the case. The family has said any money would go to a trust designed to improve campus safety.
“If other women ... believe the very people who are supposed to be helping them will take those allegations lightly and in fact exploit them then the University of Utah simply will not be a safe environment,” said attorney James McConkie. “We hope we can bring about complete transparency so the university can begin to recover.”