SALT LAKE CITY — State attorneys want a federal judge to toss a lawsuit the parents of slain University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey filed against former and current campus police and housing officials.
In court filings Monday, the Utah Attorney General’s Office renewed argument that the university did not violate federal law or McCluskey’s constitutional rights in the handling of her complaints to police. They acknowledged the U. and its staff members have an obligation to do their best to ensure public safety and “deeply regret that they did not understand the danger that faced Ms. McCluskey and missed the opportunity to help her more.”
“But the issues raised by plaintiffs’ complaint and challenged in the motion to dismiss are not about job duties, moral obligations or missed opportunities, all viewed with the benefit of hindsight,” state lawyers wrote.
“They are about whether plaintiffs can state legally sufficient claims under Title IX and the equal protection clause. Based on applicable federal law, plaintiffs cannot, and the claims should be dismissed.”
Matt and Jill McCluskey sued the U. for $56 million last June, saying the university had not taken responsibility for the death of their daughter. The lawsuit alleges that university police and housing ignored McCluskey’s multiple reports of stalking, abuse, intimidation, dating violence and other behavior prohibited under Title IX. In addition, the suit claims the U. and its employees violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Lawyers for the McCluskeys say the U. discriminated against Lauren McCluskey based on stereotypes about women who report sexual harassment and assault. The university repeatedly ignored its obligations under federal law and failed to take the steps it was legally required to take, they say.
Defendants named in the lawsuit include the U. Department of Housing and Residential Education, the U. Department of Public Safety, former police Chief Dale Brophy, police Sgt. Kory Newbold, former detective Kayla Dallof, officer Miguel Deras, and U. housing employees Todd Justensen, Heather McCarthy and Emily Thompson.
The U. contends that it cannot be liable under Title IX for failing to respond to sexual harassment, assault and violence committed on campus unless the perpetrator is faculty, staff or another student. It first sought to dismiss the lawsuit last September.
Melvin Rowland, a 37-year-old convicted sex offender who was listed on the Utah Sex Offender Registry, shot and killed McCluskey on Oct. 22, 2018, near her campus dorm. Rowland and McCluskey had gone out on dates, but she soon discovered he had lied to her 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.
State attorneys argued in a separate court filing Monday that Dallof should be dismissed from the case.
The lawsuit claims Dallof treated McCluskey’s claims of blackmail with “deliberate indifference” when she went on vacation just days before Rowland killed McCluskey.
Dallof told McCluskey that she would be out of the office, not checking emails and follow up when she returned on Oct. 23, 2018. Dallof told her to forward all communications from Rowland in the meantime and to contact campus police if he tried to lure her somewhere. She also gave McCluksey advice on how to protect herself, advice that McCluskey followed, according to court documents.
“It is simply not a well-established violation of the Constitution for police officers to take scheduled time off,” state attorneys wrote.
The state contends Dallof took reasonable measures to protect McCluskey and nothing the detective did supports an allegation of deliberate indifference.
The U. fired Dallof last March, citing “complete dereliction of duty” in a separate domestic violence case on campus. Her attorney has said the university used her as a scapegoat. She now works for the Weber County Sheriff’s Office.