SALT LAKE CITY — The attorney representing a former University of Utah officer at the center of a new controversy regarding how police handled Lauren McCluskey's harassment claims says a report about his embattled client was a "deliberate misrepresentation" and certain aspects of the story are "absolutely untrue."
Attorney JC Jensen appeared on KSL NewsRadio’s "Dave & Dujanovic" Tuesday morning to refute claims printed in a Salt Lake Tribune article that was published Sunday. The article claimed Miguel Deras, who worked as a University of Utah police officer in October 2018, had saved explicit images of McCluskey on his personal phone and bragged about them to a colleague days before McCluskey was killed by her ex-boyfriend — the man McCluskey was filing a stalking and extortion report against.
McCluskey’s family already filed a $56 million lawsuit against the university in relation to how it handled McCluskey’s case. Following the publication of that story, which was reported on by several other media outlets including KSL.com, lawyers representing the McCluskey family said Monday they planned to file another lawsuit against the university later this week if mediations between the family and the school didn’t resolve anything. Those meetings were set to begin Tuesday.
Jensen said Tuesday that Deras was initially assigned to the case before he forwarded it over to the department’s detectives division and that the messages and photos in question were sent by McCluskey to Deras’s department email. He added that officers typically use their personal phones to handle work-related matters such as signing on-and-off from shifts, making and receiving calls from residents and even handling department emails.
"Aside from the photographs in question being on Mr. Deras’s department email, which was accessible via his phone, there’s no proof that those photos were saved from his department email to his phone," Jensen said on the show. "In fact, the article in the Tribune and the U. of U.’s own statements acknowledge the facts that they were not."
The article cited an officer who worked at the police department at the time who claimed Deras showed them an explicit image of McCluskey and bragged that he had access to look at the images whenever he wanted. A second officer told the newspaper they had witnessed the incident.
Jensen said that was "untrue" and there was no evidence Deras had made an off-color comment about the photos. He confirmed Deras had shown the photos to another officer, but that it was to a supervisor during the briefing to show the evidence police had in the case.
"Other than two unidentified, either current or former university employees — there are no statements or evidence that confirmed Mr. Deras bragged or boasted about anything," Jensen said. "We dispute the fact that any of these photographs were downloaded to (Deras’s) personal cellphone. Once he received this information … this information was discussed with a supervisor during the course of a briefing as far as where they should go."
University of Utah officials released a statement on Sunday saying they began an internal investigation into the claim when it was first brought up. It wasn’t clear when the allegation that Deras had bragged about McCluskey images was reported, but the university said the investigation wrapped up in February and it found no evidence to support the claims.
University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman, who took over the position earlier this year after the police chief at the time McCluskey was killed retired, said Monday night he would reopen that investigation with an outside agency conducting it due to "the seriousness of the accusation."
Officials from the Utah Department of Public Safety agreed to conduct the independent investigation of how the U. police department handled the allegation after meeting with Chatman Tuesday morning, a university spokesperson said.
Deras has cooperated "the entire time" in any investigation into how university police handled the McCluskey case, Jensen said. That included handing over his phone to be searched.
"The fact that Mr. Deras voluntarily provided his personal cellphone without any order or subpoena flies directly in the face of the claim that Mr. Deras was worried about what would be found," he said. "I point out that absolutely nothing was found on his cellphone because there was nothing."
The law firm that represents Deras issued a statement later Tuesday that continued to critique aspects of the article, including quotes from Peace Officer Standards and Training experts and attorney Greg Skordas. Deras's lawyers argue that he did nothing wrong and didn't violate aspects of the POST code.
"It is hard to believe that an attorney experienced in POST matters would claim that display of the photos would fall under the 'conduct unbecoming rule' and that such is a catchall for lapses by officers," Deras's lawyers wrote in part.
Deras now works for the Logan Police Department, which announced Sunday it was also investigating the claims. Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said Monday that the department will "take appropriate action" if evidence is found to support the allegations.
Meanwhile, the McCluskey family said Monday that the report was an example of the university trying to suppress information about how the case was handled in 2018. Their attorneys said they might ask for depositions from U. police officers who were working then once the university formally answers the complaint filed in federal court.
"The officer’s behavior was not isolated," Matt McCluskey said. "It stemmed from a culture that did not take women seriously and refused to hold individuals accountable."
Contributing: Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic, KSL NewsRadio