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'I’m worried that he’s dangerous,' Lauren McCluskey's mother told police 12 days before her murder

By Pat Reavy, KSL | Posted - Jan. 17, 2019 at 7:32 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — As early as a week and a half before her murder, Lauren McCluskey and her mother told University of Utah police that they were concerned about her safety.

"I’m worried that he’s dangerous,” Jill McCluskey, Lauren McCluskey's mother, told emergency dispatchers on Oct. 10 about the man her daughter had been dating.

"He was lying to her. He’s actually a sexual offender, and lied about his age and things that like."

On Thursday, the U. released 911 calls that dispatchers for University police received from the McCluskey family, as well as calls dispatchers made to officers in the field.

Lauren McCluskey, 21, was shot and killed near her campus dorm on Oct. 22 by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, a convicted sex offender who was on the Utah Sex Offender Registry at the time of the killing. Rowland lied to McCluskey about his name and age. When McCluskey found out who he really was, she told police that Rowland attempted to blackmail her by demanding money in exchange for not distributing intimate pictures of her. He also seemingly tried to lure McCluskey out of her dorm alone.

In a tweet Thursday, Jill McCluskey said the recordings were "painful" to hear.

"Hopefully they will have a positive impact on safety for women on college campuses going forward," she wrote.

The calls began on Oct. 10. An emotional Jill McCluskey called dispatchers requesting help for her daughter. She said Rowland was trying to arrange a place and time that he could give Lauren's car back to her. But she didn't want her daughter meeting with him alone.

"She found out he’s a bad person and she broke up with him and he has her car,” she tells a dispatcher in a recording.

For the next two hours, several calls were placed between Jill McCluskey, Lauren McCluskey and a police dispatcher.

Lauren McCluskey, who speaks slowly and sounds unsure during her calls, initially declines an offer by the dispatcher to either have an officer or a campus security officer with her when the car is returned, or to have the car dropped off at the police station.

She eventually agrees in the recordings to have a security officer in the area as a standby. The dispatcher then calls Jill McCluskey back to inform her of the plan.

"I’m so worried about her that something will happen to her,” McCluskey again tells the dispatcher. "She’s dealing with a bad person who lied to her."

The dispatcher calling the officer to be on standby tells him, "The mom was really worried her daughter was going to get hurt tonight."

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About 30 minutes after the initial call, and apparently after talking to her mom, Lauren McCluskey called police back and agreed to have a security officer escort her to the parking lot of Rice Eccles Stadium where she would retrieve her car.

Jill McCluskey sounds relieved when informed of this decision.

"I feel like he has a little bit of control over her,” she tells the dispatcher, referring to Rowland.

Two days later, on Oct. 12, Lauren McCluskey began receiving odd messages saying that Rowland had been in an accident, followed by subsequent messages saying that he was in the hospital, had died, and then messages asking if she wanted to go to his funeral.

"I think they’re trying to lure me somewhere,” she told dispatchers in a call.

According to U. police, that call started "a formal police investigation." An officer contacted McCluskey, but university officials say that call was not recorded.

The next morning, just before 9 a.m., Lauren McCluskey called 911 again, this time saying that Rowland was trying to extort her.

"I’m dealing with a situation where I’m being blackmailed for money. A photo of me and my ex, they’re threatening to send it out to everyone and he’s asking for $1,000,” she tells the dispatcher.

But at that time, University Police Chief Dale Brophy said Rowland was one of several suspects as he was "spoofing" other phone numbers to make it look like several people were contacting McCluskey. Still, Brophy admitted that officers never attempted to make direct contact with Rowland.

Later that afternoon, about 5:45 p.m., McCluskey called Salt Lake police dispatch. According to Jill McCluskey, the calls to Salt Lake City were made "out of desperation," hoping they might be able to do something. Dispatchers, however, could only transfer her call back to the U. Once she was transferred, Lauren McCluskey told the dispatcher, "I came in earlier today and filled out a report,” and that she called 911 because she wanted to "speed things up."

The next call to University of Utah police dispatchers came on Oct. 22 at 8:19 p.m. Matt McCluskey's call to 911 from his home in Washington was transferred to the U.

"My daughter, Lauren McCluskey, was talking to her mom, and then she just started saying, ‘No, no, no, no, no’ like someone might have been grabbing her or something,” he tells dispatchers in a recording of the call.

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Jill McCluskey told dispatchers that her daughter's phone line was still open, like the phone was dropped, but no one was talking. About seven minutes into the father's call, another student picked up Lauren McCluskey's phone and can be heard saying she found the phone on the ground and Lauren's backpack nearby.

A report released by an independent panel assigned to look into how U. police handled the McCluskey case concluded, among other points, that the department was understaffed, inexperienced, and that there was a need for better communication between police and other departments on campus. The report also found none of the officers had conducted a proper criminal background check on Rowland.

Despite the many mistakes, the report and U. President Ruth Watkins stated that it was impossible to say whether McCluskey's death could have been prevented. The McCluskey family issued a strongly worded three-page statement the next day, saying they believe the murder could have been prevented and that the school "failed" their daughter due to the police department's "unforgivable lapse of judgment and professional competency."

On Thursday, Brophy admitted, "Those tapes are extremely hard to listen to knowing the outcome."

The dispatcher on Oct. 10 who arranged for a security officer to accompany Lauren McCluskey did an "excellent job," he said. But those calls also prompted additional training among dispatchers and officers about how to recognize signs of domestic violence, he said.

The chief said several times Thursday that he is always evaluating his department and the internal process and working to make improvements. In the McCluskey case, he said there has been a lot of hindsight by the public.

"If we knew that was the outcome, any of my officers would do anything they could to help somebody," he said. "We knew what we knew, when we knew it."

Among the policy changes that have been made since McCluskey's death, officers are now required to do a "mandatory offender information check when a suspect has been identified in criminal cases and all matters more significant than routine traffic stops," according to the university.

Other changes include making face-to-face contact with victims, when possible, the same day a complaint is filed, routinely "making use" of law enforcement databases. A new system was also put into place so that critical voicemails and emails are received even when an officer is off duty.

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