SALT LAKE CITY — Several people, including Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, are reacting to a report that a former University of Utah police officer showed a co-worker explicit photos of student Lauren McCluskey, who had sent them to campus police as part of an investigation, and was later killed.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Sunday that former university police officer Miguel Deras accessed explicit photos McCluskey had sent campus police as part of an investigation in 2018 on his personal phone.
The Tribune reports that Deras showed at least one photo to a co-worker and bragged that he could look at the photos at any time, according to two officers. Neither of the two officers reported the incident at the time, but confirmed and Deras was never disciplined for the actions, according to the report.
The newspaper said Deras did not respond back to "several requests" for comment.
McCluskey first met Melvin Rowland in Sept. 2018 at a local bar where he worked as a bouncer and the two quickly began a relationship. McCluskey later broke up with Rowland after discovering he had lied about his name, age and criminal past. Rowland was on parole and on the Utah Sex Offender Registry at the time, after spending several years in the Utah State Prison.
Soon after, McCluskey began receiving suspicious emails that she believed came from Rowland's friends. Days before her death, McCluskey filed a police report after receiving text messages from different numbers, threatening to post compromising photos of her on the internet if she did not pay the sender. Police later came to believe Rowland was responsible for the texts and emails.
A formal investigation didn't begin until Oct. 19 due to the police department's caseload. McCluskey told police she sent $1,000 to an account "in hopes of keeping these photos off the internet," then-U. Police Chief Dale Brophy said in an Oct. 2018, news conference.
On Oct. 22, 2018, Rowland killed McCluskey near her dorm at the university. Hours later, police officers found Rowland dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a Salt Lake church.
The University of Utah did not know of Deras’ actions until after he left the police department in September 2019, the Tribune reported. That same month, Deras was hired by Logan police.
Deras was disciplined in March 2019 in a separate matter for not conducting a proper background check on a subject, failing to call for backup, and interviewing a woman in the presence of her boyfriend while responding to a domestic violence incident a month prior.
Deras was one of several defendants named in a $56 million lawsuit filed in federal court against the University of Utah in 2019 by McCluskey’s parents, Matt and Jill McCluskey, who allege the school violated the federal law against gender discrimination. The university has asked a judge to dismiss that suit, arguing in part that harassment from someone other than a student or employee cannot form the basis of a Title IX claim.
Jill McCluskey said on a July 2019 tweet that Deras was her daughter's police contact and had 18 calls with him alone.
"On the day of her murder, (Lauren) called him 3x about a text impersonating an officer to lure her out of her dorm," Jill McCluskey said. "He didn't share that info with anyone. He was never disciplined for failing Lauren."
Disgusting and tragic. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the department could have handled this case worse. And the idea that this type (of) behavior isn’t actionable is not only wrong but dangerous.
–Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox
On May 11, Lauren McCluskey’s parents agreed to call off their plans to file a second $56 million lawsuit in state court in favor of trying to work toward an agreement with the university in mediation over their federal court lawsuit.
Several people, including Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, reacted strongly to the information released about Deras Sunday.
"Disgusting and tragic," Cox said on Twitter. "It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the department could have handled this case worse. And the idea that this type (of) behavior isn’t actionable is not only wrong but dangerous."
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, reacted to the report by saying “male lawmakers and law enforcement betrayed Lauren McCluskey.”
"She asked for help, but was exploited instead," Watts said on Twitter.
Logan Police Department said in a Facebook post Sunday afternoon that it is the first time they have heard about the allegations against Deras.
"We are very concerned about this allegation and are starting our own internal investigation to determine the facts," the post said. "At the end of the investigation, we will take whatever action is appropriate based on the facts we discover."
On Sunday evening, the University of Utah released a statement saying campus police completed an internal affairs investigation in February when they "were alerted to these allegations" and found no evidence that Deras had shared or bragged about any photo from the 2018 investigation that “wasn’t considered a legitimate law enforcement reason.”
"This was based on interviews with multiple officers who would have been present at briefings during this time period," a statement says. "No officers, currently or previously employed, ever reported this at the time of occurrence. Because there was no finding, the incident was not reported to POST at the time."
The university statement also said campus police have "changed its processes for collecting and storing evidence of this nature to ensure this isn’t an issue moving forward."
Jim McConkie, attorney for Matt and Jill McCluskey, issued a statement on Sunday night saying he, another attorney and the McCluskeys will hold a press conference Monday at 1 p.m. in Murray "regarding newly discovered evidence and recent developments in Lauren McCluskey’s case."