Spenser Heaps, KSL

Students rally for closure of University of Utah police department, firing of former officer

By Amy Donaldson, KSL | Posted - Aug. 6, 2020 at 9:17 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — In the two years since their classmate Lauren McCluskey was shot to death on campus, the students involved with the group Unsafe U say they have not seen, heard or experienced anything that restored trust and confidence in the campus’ police department.

The findings of an independent investigation released Wednesday only added to the distrust students say they feel for the campus police department. The report said investigators found that former University of Utah police officer Miguel Deras, who now works for the Logan Police Department, showed explicit photos of McCluskey, which she’d given to investigators as part of a stalking and extortion case, to other officers, including in a hallway and at the scene of her murder.

Thursday afternoon about two dozen students gathered on the lawn of the U.’s public safety building to make signs in purple paint that said “Justice for Lauren” and “Abolish UUPD,” among other messages. The signs almost completely covered the building’s front doors and entry area.

Rebecca Hardenbrook spoke to the group about their purpose, which was to demand three things — the abolition of the U. police department, to ask Logan police to fire Deras and the state to revoke Deras’ certification so he can’t work in law enforcement anymore, and to call on new U. police chief Rodney Chatman to make the internal investigation process “more transparent.”

“Our campus deserves better, our students deserve better, our staff deserve better, our faculty deserve better than what we have going on in this building,” Hardenbrook said. “This building is not here to protect us. This building is to make certain people feel safe, but not all people on this campus.”

Hardenbrook pointed out that the U.’s original investigation into how McCluskey’s case was handled didn’t reveal the issues with Deras. Instead, they only launched another independent investigation after a Salt Lake Tribune report in May made the allegations that Deras showed those explicit pictures inappropriately to other officers.

McCluskey sent the pictures to Deras as evidence that she was being blackmailed by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, a registered sex offender and Utah State Prison parolee, who had lied about his identity when he met McCluskey.

Amanda MacKay, a student and employee at the University of Utah, posts a sign on the outside of the U. Department of Public Safety building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. A small group of demonstrators gathered to protest the handling of the Lauren McCluskey case amid recent reports that a police officer showed explicit photos of the slain student to fellow officers. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, KSL)

On Oct. 22, 2018, Rowland shot and killed McCluskey on campus near her dorm after weeks stalking and harassing her. Rowland fatally shot himself hours later as police were closing in to make an arrest.

Brooke Martin, who just graduated, said that in the two years since McCluskey was shot to death on campus, “We’re still here and we’re still not being heard.”

She said the actions taken by school and police have not helped rebuild confidence in university policing.

“There has been so much that’s happened in those two years that is the opposite of accountability,” she said. “To put it simply, we need the University of Utah police department abolished.”

Political science major MJ Powell said when they talk about issues and possible reforms, they must talk “about intersectionality.”

“The thing that makes us so great as Americans first and foremost, is that we have unique differences,” he said. “To the typical person, they don’t really see that we’re out here peacefully assembling today, to practice our First Amendment right.”

Powell said that as a Black man he’s had issues with police, but gender-related violence is another example of policing failures.

The group mentioned other social justice issues related to policing in their comments and on their march to the steps of the Park Building, home of the school’s administration.

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