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U of U police chief: officers saw, discussed intimate photos of Lauren McCluskey

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2018, file photo, a photograph of University of Utah student and track athlete Lauren McCluskey, who was fatally shot on campus, is projected on the video board before the start of an NCAA college football game between Oregon and Utah in Salt Lake City. The parents of Lauren McCluskey say their formerly shy daughter was brimming with confidence and excited to graduate before she was fatally shot on campus. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — A review of accusations that a University of Utah police officer inappropriately downloaded and shared intimate photos used to extort murdered student Lauren McCluskey is now finished, the campus police chief said. 

In a statement, Chief Rodney Chatman said investigators found no evidence to show the officer in question downloaded the photos inappropriately or shared them (digitally) with others. But it did find he showed the photos to some officers, who “inappropriately commented on the photos before, during or immediately after a shift change briefing,” an action he called “inexcusable.” 

The review from the Utah Department of Public Safety found Officer Miguel Deras, who is no longer with the campus police department, showed the photos to several other officers. In at least one instance, the report states Deras showed the photos to supervisory officers to ask how he should handle them; should they be attached to a report? How should that happen? One of the two people to whom Deras says he showed the photos with those questions denied the conversation took place. 

But in another instance, the report says Deras showed the photos to three other officers in a hallway just outside the conference room where department briefings take place. 

Inappropriate comments about McCluskey photos

“Officers [names redacted] remember hearing some unprofessional comments being made when the pictures were displayed,” the report states. 

“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,” Chatman wrote in his statement.

Chatman said the behavior is unacceptable and he will not tolerate it. 

“We will continue to strive to be better, to hold each other accountable and to serve our community with the utmost integrity. I look forward to continued conversations with students, faculty and staff as we work to build a law enforcement agency reflective of the remarkable organization and people it serves.” 

McCluskey was murdered in October 2018, after reporting her ex-boyfriend, a convicted sex offender named Melvin Shawn Rowland, who had lied to her about his age and identity, was trying to extort her using the intimate photos.

The University of Utah Police Department has faced criticism in the time since her death over its response to her concerns, in part because of the timeline of events. Her mother first contacted campus police on Oct. 10, 2018, to report McCluskey needed an escort to help retrieve her car from Rowland. McCluskey herself reported questionable texts from Rowland’s friends on Oct. 12, 2018. She reported the first texts demanding money on Oct. 13, 2018, and spoke with officers from campus police multiple times about her concerns between that date and her murder on Oct. 22, 2018. 

Reaction from family of Lauren McCluskey 

McCluskey’s mother, Jill McCluskey, issued the following statement in response to the report’s findings. 

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.  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.

 

In fact, McCluskey says the statements made by University of Utah officials were so false, she’s calling for another investigation.  The family issued a second statement saying…

          “The University of Utah continues to mislead, cover up the facts, and fail to take responsibility for the murder of our daughter. 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.”

Family attorney Jim McConkie says the state’s report gives them enough evidence to add claims to the two lawsuits they’ve already filed against the school.

He says, “It will be a civil cause of action for taking a picture that is private and showing it to others.  That has been tried and tested in federal court, successfully.  It’s not a controversial cause of action.”

McConkie says even if Deras didn’t download the images to his phone, the report shows a much bigger problem.

He quoted the report, saying, “’Officer Somebody’ said he remembers seeing the explicit images and remembers hearing people saying things like, ‘Cute girl,’ and ‘Lucky you got that case.’”  McConkie continued, “This is evidence of a pattern of misogyny, or a pattern of demeaning women.”

Attorneys for Deras say the report vindicates him

The report also says some officers refute the claims that they were shown the photos, at all.  One person claims he has no memory of seeing the pictures and another says he doesn’t remember even being at the briefing where Deras reportedly let others see them.

Deras’ attorney, Jeremy Jones, sent a statement to the media saying his client acted responsibly, and that the only officer who admitted to any wrongdoing wasn’t Deras.

The statement reads, in part…

“The DPS report recounts that photos were reportedly shown to a group of officers after a morning briefing. Two unnamed officers claim inappropriate comments were made (but not what was said or by whom). Another denies any knowledge of this interaction. One (not Deras) admits to making a possibly inappropriate comment after having seen the photos. These officers differ on where this occurred, when, and most importantly, on the underlying details. Only one officer reports that Deras may have said something to the effect of, “I can look at these photos whenever I want.” None of the other officers present attribute such a statement to Deras, let alone any other inappropriate comments. Indeed, there is disagreement about whether the interaction occurred at all, with one officer asserting that the photos were never shown in this context and another denying that the interaction ever took place.
Officer Deras 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. It’s possible Officer Deras mentioned having access to the photos as part of his role in the investigation during the briefing but that never for an improper purpose. Even taking the DPS report at face value, what transpired following the briefing is far from clear. Indeed, the only apparent specific admission of wrongdoing was by an entirely different officer.”

Jones also took aim at Salt Lake Tribune reporter Courtney Tanner, who wrote a story in May, sparking the DPS investigation.  The statement also says…

“Unsurprisingly Ms. Tanner attempts to spin the narrative, selectively quoting the report to reinforce her already-held view of the facts and to demonize Officer Deras. What Ms. Tanner does not mention in today’s reporting is that DPS was able to make contact with her original sources. The primary source revealed that they told Ms. Tanner from the outset that Deras’ possession of the photos was likely legitimate. We also know that the source specifically stated that they had never heard Deras brag about the photos. Worse, Ms. Tanner’s source declined to adopt her characterizations about Deras’ conduct and asserted that they were misquoted by Ms. Tanner in her reporting. Ms. Tanner also previously misquoted Director Scott Stephenson of POST in asserting that the director had determined that Deras’ actions were grounds for action against his law enforcement certification. That is not now, nor has it ever been the case. Ms. Tanner also inaccurately reports the details of the U’s original investigation and details regarding Rick McLenon’s interactions with DPS.”