On Oct. 22, 2018, Utah track and field athlete Lauren McCluskey was senselessly murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Melvin Rowland, a convicted sex offender who lied about his age and identity, tried to extort her for the sexual images she had shared with him during their time together.
While the murder and ensuing case made national news, the time the followed was nearly as difficult as the murder itself. Interesting pieces of the murder, and what led to it, detailed a flawed investigation by the University of Utah and the police department. Reports showed that both McCluskey and her mother Jill contacted the campus police as many as 10 days prior to the murder.
Now exactly two years later since that fateful day, and after Lauren’s parents had filed lawsuits against the school at the state level arguing that the University was criminally negligent, a settlement between both parties has been reached.
“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,” University of Utah president Ruth Watkins said in a formal statement. “As a result, we failed Lauren and her family. If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide their responses, the university believes they would have been better equipped to protect Lauren.”
As part of the settlement, the University of Utah’s ‘Center for Violence Prevention’ will now be renamed as the ‘McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention.’ The University will also pay the McCluskey family $10.5-million by March 31, 2021, and make a charitable donation of $3-million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.
Another part of the settlement will ensure that Lauren’s name lives forever within the walls of Utah athletics. The University said it will raise funds to construct an indoor athletic facility with a track to be named in Lauren’s honor by late 2030.
This will benefit the student-athletes ad Utah and allow them to train year-round, especially during the harsh winter months — which can sometimes last from November-through-March. As of now, athletes must travel to the Olympic Oval to train during the winter, making the commute just under an hour one way. If for whatever reason the funds aren’t raised by June 30, 2031, the University will make another $3-million donation to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.
“As part of the settlement, the University of Utah has pledged to build an indoor track facility. … Named after Lauren. We are also honored that her name will be associated with the Center for Violence Prevention,” Jill said. “Track and field was a very important part of Lauren’s life. She was a very hard worker and she was honored to be a member of the Track and Field Team at the University of Utah.”
McCluskey was murdered on October 22, 2018, three days after the University of Utah police opened up a formal investigation, and nine days before she originally reported the blackmailing on Oct. 13.
After being extorted over explicit photos she had taken of herself, someone — McCluskey didn’t know who at that time — was threatening to release them if she didn’t pay the $1,000 that was being asked for.
Terrified of what was taking place and not knowing what to do, McCluskey paid the money and then reported it to police. She added pictures of the communication messages between her and the blackmailer, hoping for some sort of resolution with the problem.
The situation started around 9 p.m., when emergency dispatchers received several calls that reported a disturbance between a man and a woman in a parking lot on campus. McCluskey was then found shot to death in a car.
In the end, it was her boyfriend Rowland who was extorting her for the money — Rowland was later found on during the early morning hours of the 23rd dead due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
ALLEGATIONS OF MISCONDUCT
Following the conclusion of an independent investigation, it was proven that former University of Utah officer Miguel Deras showed inappropriate photos of McCluskey to his fellow officers in a hallway and at the scene of her murder.
The report concluded that Deras did not download or digitally share the photos with anybody, three other officers viewed the photos of McCluskey on Deras’ phone. According to the report, officers who saw the photos remember crass and “unprofessional comments” being made at the time of the viewing — with one of the comments Deras made was that “he could look at them whenever he wanted.”
The independent investigation was originally launched after the Salt Lake Tribune printed a story three months ago alleging that Deras originally bragged about having the inappropriate photos on his phone. McCluskey, 21, sent Deras the original photos as proof that she was being blackmailed by Rowland, a registered sex offender and McCluskey’s ex-boyfriend prior to her death.
According to the report, Deras received the images on Oct. 13, 2018, where he then forwarded those pictures to Dallof “within the same hour,” the report states.
Dallof wasn’t the only who received the pictures from Deras, as he also showed the pictures to the officer who was in charge at the time, “and asked … for supervisory guidance regarding the elements of the crime of extortion as well as how to handle the pictures, specifically how to attach them, or even if he should attach them to his police report.”
Issues in the report begin on Oct. 15 when Deras allegedly showed the photos to a sergeant, again asking for “guidance on how to proceed with handling the pictures.” The report then states that two other officers were present for this action, but the sergeant (whose name has been redacted) denies being present or ever shown the photos at all.
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