SALT LAKE CITY — Student track athlete Lauren McCluskey handed explicit photos of herself over to University of Utah police officers, hoping desperately that they could keep her safe from her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland’s extortion and threats.
Days later, Rowland abducted and killed McCluskey, 21, on campus before taking his own life in a Salt Lake City church. According to an ongoing $65 million federal lawsuit filed by her parents, McCluskey had reported Rowland’s increasingly frightening behavior to campus police more than 20 times in the dozen or so days before her Oct. 22, 2018, murder.
Now, more than 18 months after McCluskey’s death, a former university police officer is under investigation for allegedly sharing the photos of the young woman with co-workers. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the officer, Miguel Deras, downloaded McCluskey’s photos to his personal cellphone and showed at least one of them to a male co-worker, bragging about being able to view the image whenever he wanted.
A second officer corroborated the first officer’s account, saying he overheard the conversation, the newspaper reported.
Deras is now a member of the Logan Police Department, which on Monday announced an investigation into his actions. University of Utah police Chief Rodney Chatman also announced Monday that his department is investigating the claims, which first came to light Sunday in an article published by the Tribune.
On Monday, McCluskey’s mother, Jill McCluskey, accused Deras of exploiting her daughter in her time of need. The family’s attorney, Jim McConkie, said during a news conference that the officer “re-victimized” the college student.
“She expected Officer Miguel Deras to arrest this man when she provided evidence against him,” Jill McCluskey said of her daughter. “It would have been straightforward to detain him, since he was a felon on parole.
“It turns out that the only thing Officer Deras did was download the photos that she provided as evidence to his personal phone for his own enjoyment.”
The distraught mother also tweeted about the allegations Sunday after the story broke.
“Lauren was brave to report to police,” Jill McCluskey tweeted. “@UUtah confirmed that instead of arresting the man who was stalking & extorting her, Officer Deras exploited her by downloading extortion pictures to his phone & showing them to another officer unrelated to the case.”
Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox called the allegations “disgusting and tragic.”
“It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the department could have handled this case worse,” Cox tweeted. “And the idea that this type (of) behavior isn’t actionable is not only wrong, but dangerous.”
Chatman said in a statement that, if the allegations are true, they are a “serious breach of trust and a violation of professional law enforcement standards” and that the officer must be held accountable.
“It is inexcusable for a police officer to inappropriately share or discuss photos or information provided by a victim seeking justice,” Chatman said. “This is an especially egregious offense on a college campus, where young women are already reluctant to report sexual assault to police for fear of not being believed or (of) no action being taken if they report a crime.”
Chatman explained that campus police officials completed an internal investigation last year following allegations brought forward by a Tribune reporter, who was probing how the department had handled Lauren McCluskey’s complaints about Rowland.
“The report, which was completed prior to my joining the department as chief, found that a photo was shared in the context of a shift-change briefing,” Chatman said Monday. “Prior to the Tribune inquiry, the incident was never reported to the police department’s command staff or a campus entity that might have investigated it.”
After personally reviewing the report, Chatman said, he decided to order a new probe by an outside agency.
“This is due to the seriousness of the accusation, concerns I have with the thoroughness of our investigation, and my desire to avoid any perception of bias,” Chatman said.
The Utah Department of Public Safety will lead the independent investigation.
The chief said he anticipated disappointment over the new investigation by some members of the campus community.
“Statements by the university over the past 24 hours have leaned heavily on the results of the first internal review,” Chatman said. “However, if my police department is to regain credibility in the eyes of the community it serves, this new review must be completed swiftly and with respect for both the students we serve and for Lauren McCluskey and her family.”
Logan police Chief Gary Jensen said his department was “blindsided” by the Tribune’s story. He said his agency is taking the allegations seriously while ensuring that Deras’ right to due process remains intact.
“These are terrible allegations that may anger, sadden and even sicken many, but I ask for your patience as we work had to seek facts to substantiate or refute claims made by the Tribune,” Jensen said. “If there is evidence substantiating the allegations, we will take appropriate action.”
University officials said they were unaware of the allegations against Deras until after he left the department in September 2019, according to the Tribune. Deras, who had been a campus officer for four years, resigned in the wake of his mishandling of a separate domestic violence case.
Deras was never reprimanded for his missteps in McCluskey’s case, which the Tribune reported included a failure to relay to colleagues or a supervisor a complaint McCluskey made just hours before she was slain.
McCluskey had received an email from someone impersonating a police officer, the newspaper reported. She feared it was Rowland.
Below, read the independent review of University of Utah police officials’ response to Lauren McCluskey’s complaints.
Deras and other officers also failed to look into Rowland’s background, which would have shown he was a sex offender on parole. The Tribune reported that some of McCluskey’s earliest complaints about him could have sent him back to prison on a parole violation.
Instead of disciplinary action for their handling of the case, Deras and his colleagues were required to undergo domestic violence training so they’d better recognize warning signs in the future.
Months later, Deras made nearly identical mistakes in another student’s case, the Tribune said. According to documents obtained by the newspaper, Deras failed to include the man’s criminal history in his police reports and allowed the man to remain at the scene as he took the woman’s complaint.
Even more concerning, Deras’ write-up said he failed to determine if the man was on parole – even after the suspect “attempted to call his parole agent in (Deras’) presence,” according to the documents.
Read the McCluskey family’s November 2019 lawsuit against the University of Utah below.
Another officer, identified by the Tribune as a female detective, also left the campus department last year, though it was unclear if she resigned or was fired. The newspaper reported that the detective was assigned to investigate McCluskey’s claims against Rowland but failed to do so until after McCluskey had been killed.
Though McCluskey first called campus police about Rowland 10 days before her death, it took a week for a formal investigation to be opened. Nothing happened in the case because the female detective was off-duty and did not come back on until after the murder, the paper said.
In Monday’s news conference, Lauren McCluskey’s father, Matt McCluskey, told reporters via video that he is proud of his daughter’s courage in sending police the evidence to seek Rowland’s arrest for extortion.
“She trusted the campus police, as students must, to take appropriate action,” Matt McCluskey said. “Lauren’s trust was betrayed by the officers who were sworn to protect her. This latest revelation … makes me wonder how much misconduct remains undiscovered.”
Watch the news conference below, courtesy of KUTV in Salt Lake City.
Matt McCluskey said Deras’ behavior was not isolated but instead stemmed from a “culture that did not take women seriously and refused to hold individuals accountable.”
He said the university, for the sake of its students, needs to take responsibility.
Jill McCluskey lamented the precious time that was wasted before her daughter was slain.
“I wish (Deras) had used his time to arrest Lauren’s killer rather than ogling at her image,” she said.
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