U. police issue apology after awards ceremony mentions slain student-athlete Lauren McCluskey

U. police issue apology after awards ceremony mentions slain student-athlete Lauren McCluskey

(University of Utah)

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SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah police issued an apology via Twitter after an awards ceremony that mentioned the name of slain student-athlete Lauren McCluskey provoked criticism from her parents.

"What we're apologizing for is if (McCluskey's mention) caused anybody discomfort or pain or produced bad memories, because that wasn't our intent. Our intent was to honor people who do their job well," said campus police spokesman Dan Metcalf.

Metcalf is one of a number of new hires made by the department after an investigation into McCluskey's death by an independent panel found it to be understaffed.

However, Matt McCluskey, Lauren's father, said in an email that the awards ceremony itself demonstrated a "lack of accountability."

"We don’t have a response to the 'apology' tweet, other than to reiterate the main point: No one has been reprimanded, yet several people are getting awards," he wrote.

On Wednesday night, Jill McCluskey took to Twitter calling out the police department for giving awards for action during her daughter's case.

"I can't imagine anyone thinking this is a good idea. It shows how out of touch they are," she wrote.

Jill McCluskey has been critical of the police department's handling of her daughter's case.

Priory to Lauren McCluskey's murder at the hands of her former boyfriend Melvin Rowland last October, both mother and daughter had called to report harassment, extortion and other alarming behavior from Rowland.

Metcalf said the awards ceremony was standard practice across police and various campus departments.

"Just about every police department does award ceremonies like this," he said, noting that 55 distinguished certificates or practice commendations were given out.

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Metcalf acknowledged that the mention of McCluskey's name in the program may have appeared "somewhat insensitive" and noted that "in hindsight, (the department) would probably leave her name out of it."

In the ceremony's program, McCluskey's name is mentioned under three awards.

University spokesman Christopher Nielson was cited for "outstanding service to the Department of Public Safety as a member of the Situation, Triage and Assessment Team."

The program noted that during the two shootings that claimed the lives of McCluskey in 2018 and Chen Wei Guo in 2017, Nelson directed "his team in a professional and effective manner while maintaining a calm demeanor under stressful conditions."

In a phone interview, Nelson said the criticism that followed Wednesday's employee awards is "understandable," and noted that "it's nice to be recognized by your peers, but it's certainly not necessary."

He said in the case of tragedies such as McCluskey and Wei Guo's, the most important thing is "taking care of the students and the families that we serve, not to recognize each other."

Nelson said he did not associate the award with either tragedies and does not believe that was the intention.

Lori McDonald, the U.'s dean of students, was feted for "managing campus support services to student and victim families" after both homicides.

A third award was presented to the dispatcher who spoke to Lauren and Jill McCluskey on Oct. 10, 12 days before the shooting.

The same dispatcher was mentioned in the investigation that found her conduct to have been appropriate and recommended the university recognize her "proper handling of the call."

Metcalf said the report had "certainly prompted (the dispatcher's) recommend for her distinguished service," however, he added that "she's a great dispatcher and does a fantastic job regardless."

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Christina Giardinelli


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