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University of Utah and family of Lauren McCluskey reach $13.5M settlement

By Jacob Klopfenstein and Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Updated - Oct. 22, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. | Posted - Oct. 22, 2020 at 9:12 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — On the two-year anniversary of their daughter's death on the University of Utah campus, the family of Lauren McCluskey announced they have reached a $13.5 million settlement with the university.

The university will pay $10.5 million to the parents of McCluskey, with an additional $3 million being donated to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation which the family has set up on college campuses throughout the country.

Lauren's parents, Jill and Matt McCluskey, said at a news conference Thursday that all proceeds of the settlement will go toward the foundation.

"The settlement is important for many reasons," Lauren's mother Jill McCluskey said. "It addresses how Lauren died, but also honors how she lived. All the money from the settlement will go to support the Lauren McCluskey Foundation missions, which include campus safety, animal welfare and amateur athletics."

As part of the settlement, the school will also build an indoor athletic facility, including an indoor track, that will be named for McCluskey. The Center for Violence Prevention at the U. will also now bear her name.

The settlement brings to an end two separate $56 million wrongful death lawsuits — one in state court and one in federal — the McCluskey had filed against the school. In the settlement, the university admits that Lauren's murder was a "preventable tragedy."

"The University of Utah acknowledges that the murder of Lauren McCluskey was a brutal, senseless, and preventable tragedy and acknowledges the unspeakable loss the McCluskey family has suffered and continues to suffer," the agreement reads.

University of Utah president Ruth Watkins, who in the weeks following Lauren's murder in 2018 insisted that there wasn't a reason to believe Lauren's death tragedy could have been prevented by university police, acknowledged Thursday more could have been done.

"The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren's case as it should have and that, at the time," Watkins said, reading from a prepared statement. "Its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren's situation. As a result, we failed Lauren and her family. If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide their responses, the university believes they would have been better equipped to protect Lauren."

Lauren McCluskey, 21, was shot and killed on campus by her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Shawn Rowland. She had confronted Rowland, 37, when she discovered he had lied to her about his name, age and criminal history. He was on parole and was a registered sex offender at the time, and had spent several years in prison.

She broke off her relationship with Rowland and, from Oct. 10 until she died, called the U. police department several times asking for help. Lauren's family alleges that the department didn't properly investigate Rowland's behavior and background despite Lauren's repeated requests for help, according to the lawsuits.

Rowland shot and killed Lauren near her campus dorm on Oct. 22, 2018. He died by suicide several hours later.

"Lauren's complaints were not taken seriously because she was a woman," Alex Evans, of Parker and McConkie, the McCkluskey's lawyers, said in a news release. "For Lauren McCluskey, Utah's constitutional promises of equal rights, and respectful treatment were never realized but only illusory."

Jill McCluskey said the $10.5 million that will be going to the family will be paid by the school's insurance provider, something she hopes serves as a warning for other insurance companies to hold campus police accountable.

"We are hopeful that this will cause insurance companies worldwide to view campus police who did not respond to women with urgency as a risk," Jill McCluskey said.

McCluskey's death and the aftermath have remained a prominent issue in Utah and the nation consistently in the years since she died.

It sparked a debate around campus security at the University of Utah, prompting the U. to revamp its approach to safety, though some say it still isn't enough. Jill and Matt McCluskey have remained ardent and consistent critics of the U., and have led a nationwide movement encouraging university professors to commit to listening and believing students who say someone is threatening them, known as "Lauren's Promise."

This summer, Miguel Deras, a former U. police officer assigned to investigate Lauren's case in 2018, was accused of showing explicit photos of Lauren to other officers in the department and bragging about having access to them. Lauren had shared the photos with him as part of the investigation of Rowland, who she said was extorting her.

In the latest development in the McCluskey case, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced last week he wouldn't file criminal charges against Deras, prompting protests from those unhappy with the decision.

A Department of Public Safety report investigating Deras's actions found that he showed the photos to at least three other officers, who saw them as part of their official police duties. Some who saw the photos remembered crass or "unprofessional comments" made about the photos, the report said.

Deras's attorney Jeremy Jones said last week Deras never did anything illegal, and there has been a "false narrative" around his actions.

Jacob Klopfenstein
Ryan Miller

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