SALT LAKE CITY — A former University of Utah police officer showed explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey to other officers, including in a hallway and at the scene of her murder, according to an independent investigation.
While the report concluded that officer Miguel Deras did not download or digitally share picture files of the slain U. student-athlete, the photos were directly shown to at least three officers. And some who saw the pictures — allegedly as part of their police duties — recalled crass and “unprofessional comments” being made, according to the final report looking into the situation.
Furthermore, the report found that the former acting police chief never actually looked at an internal affairs investigation conducted by University of Utah police in February regarding the allegations of misconduct until after a news article was published.
“It is inexcusable for any law enforcement officer to discuss photos or information provided by a victim outside of clear and legitimate law enforcement reasons. I am deeply disturbed by this finding and disappointed in the officers who were present and who did not report this incident through appropriate university channels,” University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman said in a prepared statement.
McCluskey’s mother, Jill McCluskey, denounced the officer’s actions Wednesday.
“(Officer) Deras’ egregious misconduct in betraying a victim’s trust by displaying private evidence photos to officers who are not involved in the investigation is a crime,” she said in a statement. ”The University of Utah continues to mislead, continues to cover up the facts and continues to fail to take responsibility for the murder of our daughter. Last May, the university claimed that Deras never showed pictures of Lauren to any noninvolved officers. But today, the independent investigation shows the university’s representation was totally false.”
She and her husband, Matt McCluskey, now want another investigation.
“We now call for the University of Utah to redo its incomplete and disingenuous investigation and for an independent review of the facts surrounding Lauren’s murder and the university’s failure to respond to her pleas for help,” they said in a separate statement.
But attorneys for Deras say the Utah Department of Public Safety report reached the complete opposite conclusion. They issued a 2 1/2 page statement of their own Wednesday, saying the report actually backs their client.
“This report directly falsifies virtually every aspect of the Tribune’s original reporting and roundly corroborates officer Deras’ account of events,” attorney Jeremy Jones said. “Contrary to the prior reporting, Deras did not inappropriately download images to his phone. He did not electronically share them with another officer. ... He is not, nor has he ever been, a boogeyman.”
The completed investigation into the allegations that Deras downloaded photos of McCluskey to his personal phone and then bragged to other officers about having them was released by the University of Utah Wednesday.
“This investigation did not find any physical evidence to suggest that officer Deras ever downloaded the pictures in question to his phone. Also, there is no evidence that officer Deras forwarded the images in question to anyone other than detective Kayla Dallof — who was the detective assigned to the case — and to the records officer,” the report states.
Although he did not forward the pictures to anyone else, the report says Deras ended up showing the photographs to at least three officers in the course of conducting his job.
The investigation was launched after the Salt Lake Tribune printed a story in May alleging Deras had bragged about having photos on his phone that McCluskey, 21, had sent to him to prove that she was being blackmailed by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, a registered sex offender and Utah State Prison parolee.
On Oct. 22, 2018, Rowland shot and killed McCluskey on campus near her dorm after weeks of stalking and harassing her. Rowland fatally shot himself hours later as police were closing in to make an arrest.
The allegations of Deras sharing the photos prompted a strong response from McCluskey’s parents. “I wish he had used his time to arrest Lauren’s killer rather than ogling at her image,” Jill McCluskey said.
The allegations also resulted in the McCluskey family filing a second lawsuit against the university.
According to the Department of Public Safety report, Deras received the images in question on Oct. 13, 2018. He then forwarded those pictures to Dallof “within the same hour,” the report states.
Deras also showed the pictures to the officer who was in charge at the time, “and asked ... for supervisory guidance regarding the elements of the crime of extortion as well as how to handle the pictures, specifically how to attach them, or even if he should attach them to his police report.”
On Oct. 15, Deras allegedly showed the pictures to a sergeant and again “asked for guidance on how to proceed with handling the pictures,” the report states. At least two other officers stated they were present when this happened. But the sergeant, whose name is redacted in the report, denies being there or being shown the photos.
At some point after that, in the hallway outside a shift briefing, Deras showed the McCluskey pictures to three officers who had previously seen them, according to the report. Two officers “remember hearing some unprofessional comments being made when the pictures were displayed.” The third officer “denies having any knowledge about this event.”
One of the comments Deras made, according to one officer, was that “he could look at them whenever he wanted,” the report states. It also says at least two officers heard comments that were “crass” by those who were there.
“This type of behavior is not acceptable in my department and will not be tolerated,” Chatman said Wednesday. He told the Deseret News he is discouraged by “any behavior exhibited by our officers that is less than sensitive on how evidence is handled.”
Reaching out to a supervisor for advice on what to do with evidence is understandable, he said, but it should have been a one-on-one meeting and not a hallway discussion with other officers present.
Jill McCluskey agrees.
“The DPS report shows that officer Miguel Deras accessed the photo email attachments unnecessarily on his phone multiple times. UU Police Chief Rodney Chatman stated that the report found no evidence that Deras downloaded the picture files, but of course that is irrelevant to him being able to view them whenever he wanted on his phone. He showed the photos to other officers on at least four occasions, including to the officer in charge after receiving them, at a meeting where he walked around a table with multiple officers showing pictures to each one of them, in a hallway where inappropriate comments were made, and at the scene of Lauren’s murder, which is especially hurtful,” she said in the statement.
On the night McCluskey was murdered, a sergeant who was performing security detail on the perimeter of the crime scene was talking to Deras and stated that he wondered what the homicide victim looked like. That’s when Deras showed him a sexually explicit image of McCluskey on his phone, the report states.
University of Utah police conducted an internal affairs review of the allegations regarding Deras in February. Chatman placed two employees on administrative leave pending the completion of the Department of Public Safety report. Although those people weren’t named, U. Deputy Chief Rick McLenon submitted his resignation on June 8.
According to the report, the lieutenant who conducted the February internal affairs investigation “verbally reported the results of his investigation up the chain of command, but did not physically give his report to the acting Chief of Police Rick McLenon to review it.”
McLenon reported that he was told there was “nothing there” when advised of the results of the investigation, but he later admitted “he didn't read the IA report” until after the news article was published.
“In hindsight, he said it became apparent that the initial investigation had fallen short of answering the eventual allegations raised by the Tribune,” according to the report.
The report notes that Deras was interviewed by the internal affairs unit of the Logan Police Department, where he currently works, about the pictures. But he did not grant an interview with the Department of Public Safety for its investigation, the report states.
Deras’ attorney said Wednesday that his client “did not show the photos to other officers following the briefing. He did not boast about being able to access the photos whenever he wanted. It’s more than likely that the singular officer who is quoted misremembers what occurred nearly two years ago, especially when others do not share that recollection and when this account was not raised during two prior investigations.”
Jones said the “real takeaway” from the report is that Deras’ account of events “has been confirmed. He acted appropriately at every turn.”
Chatman reaffirmed Wednesday that he stands by his department’s new mission statement: “We seek public trust by policing with compassion, integrity and accountability in our daily pursuit of excellence. We nurture public trust by holding ourselves to the highest standards.”
“These are not just words. They are values that I expect every officer and staff member in my department to live up to every day,” he said. “We will continue to strive to be better, to hold each other accountable and to serve our community with the utmost integrity.”
As for officers who couldn’t seem to remember whether they had seen the McCluskey pictures or were at the Oct. 15 meeting, Chatman said anytime one of his officers is being interviewed, they need to be 100% forthright.
“If I am in a position to lead an agency that is rebuilding trust with community, I have to trust the officers who are entrusted with that work,” he said.
Chatman added that he is confident the current officers in his department are “willing to roll up their sleeves” and work to remove any prior perceptions the public has of the university’s police department.