Facebook Twitter

Utah detective in Lauren McCluskey case was fired months later for ‘dereliction of duty’

Termination came after officer went home instead of making arrest, but attorney says she is a ‘scapegoat’

SHARE Utah detective in Lauren McCluskey case was fired months later for ‘dereliction of duty’
A call box near dorms at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

A call box near dorms at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The detective tasked with helping University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey before her brutal murder last year was fired months later for showing a “complete dereliction of duty” involving a separate domestic violence case on campus.

That information comes from newly released U. documents about police detective Kayla Dallof, who was assigned to a case involving a death threat from a student who had held a teen in his dorm room against her will. After learning about a threatening voice message, Dallof went home instead of making an arrest, investigators say.

“We must have detectives who recognize the need to act; to take proactive measures and to not simply notify me there was a threat made and then leave for the day to screen it next week,” University of Utah Police Sgt. Kory Newbold wrote in a February memo to then-detective Dallof.

“The resulting impact of what may have occurred is unthinkable if the male student had attempted or carried out his threat of violence.”

University spokesman Chris Nelson said Friday the documents speak for themselves and show that the university has zero tolerance for not following protocols and processes.

The Weber County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Friday that

Dallof has since been hired as a Weber County sheriff’s deputy “after a thorough and complete background investigation,” according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.

“The Weber County Sheriff’s Office stands behind our decision in hiring Kayla and supports her in continuing her career as a law enforcement officer. Since hiring Kayla, she has excelled here at the sheriff’s office in her duties and we look forward to seeing her to continue her success in her career here,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Dallof’s attorney Jonathan Thorn is calling her a “scapegoat” for the university and said Friday she “did everything she was supposed to do.

“She raised the alarm. She did so repeatedly. She kept her supervisor up to date on all facts of the case in real time,” Thorn said.

McCluskey, 21, was killed on campus in October by an ex-boyfriend who had lied about his age and identity. An independent review of how the university handled the McCluskey case found numerous errors made by police — including not conducting a background check on Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, a convicted sex offender who was on parole and on the Utah Sex Offender Registry at the time of the killing — and not returning numerous calls made by McCluskey in a timely manner.

In response, the school announced it would implement 30 changes around campus to improve the safety of students and better address domestic violence issues.

Despite numerous phone calls to U. police by both Lauren and her mother, Jill McCluskey, expressing their concerns, Dallof never had a face-to-face meeting with her and never conducted a proper background check on Rowland, the investigation revealed. Lauren McCluskey even called the Salt Lake City Police Department because she feared U. officers weren’t doing enough.

Even after the investigation found the errors, neither Dallof nor anyone else involved was disciplined in connection to the McCluskey case. 

“Kayla Dallof was complacent in her job at the University of Utah police. She did not believe the seriousness of the threats to women when they reported to police. This underscores that there is a problem with the culture in the campus police and housing at the University of Utah to not take relationship violence seriously,” Jill McCluskey said in a statement to the Deseret News on Friday.

“Training, policies, procedures, and slogans will not matter if university personnel do not respond with urgency to women’s concerns.”

In late January, U. Police Chief Dale Brophy and other department administrators met with Dallof to discuss the McCluskey case, the memo states. During that meeting, they talked to her about responsibilities of officers when victims face threats of violence and that “immediate action” needed to be taken in the future, even if it meant staying late at work.

But on Feb. 13, Dallof was assigned a case involving the domestic issue with a U. student and a 17-year-old girl who didn’t attend the school, according to the memo.

Dallof learned through interviews with both the man and the girl that he had held her inside his dorm room against her will — an allegation that would warrant a criminal charge, Newbold wrote.

After interviewing the man, Dallof called the girl, who told her the ex-boyfriend had left a threatening voicemail the previous day, which she had just noticed, the memo states.

“You had listened to that message and informed me he had made a verbal threat over a recorded message. I had not heard the message and asked that you send me the message. Prior to my receiving the message you walked past my office and indicated that you were going to screen the case next week, and you left for the day,” Newbold wrote.

He said that the message “was of a male displaying anger and rage through the tone of his voice.” The student had said that if the girl didn’t call him, he may “kill her.”

“The message was very concerning from a victim of domestic abuse standpoint. The message was such that it should not have been held for screening and this issue should have been addressed immediately. You failed to recognize the significance and impact this call had for this domestic investigation,” Newbold said in the memo.

“The totality of what was known by you as an investigator of this situation should have signaled an alarm or given you notice that you needed to handle the incident immediately without hesitation and take the initiative to find the male student and place him under arrest,” Newbold wrote.

But Thorn claims Newbold didn’t take “immediate action” after Dallof told him about the voicemail. In a text message while she was still in the office, Dallof told the sergeant, “You need to listen to the voicemail he sent her yesterday,” according to her attorney.

After he didn’t immediately respond, Dallof went back to Newbold’s office, where he didn’t ask to listen to the voice message, Thorn said. She said she explained to him what the man said on the voicemail and together they conducted a threat assessment and decided to continue investigating, according to Thorn.

When Newbold asked Dallof for an explanation of her actions on Feb. 19, the sergeant said she indicated, “I don’t have an answer for that and do whatever you have to do.”

During a pre-disciplinary conference on Feb. 27, Dallof said because of different factors in the case — including the girl living with her parents in a different county, the man not owning a car, and the voicemail being from the previous night — she had wanted to review the man’s phone data before screening charges.

Dallof received a termination letter on March 5.

In response, she submitted a grievance. The committee that heard the grievance, however, found that she “was not alarmed enough to follow basic department protocols for domestic violence, or invoke the new zero tolerance approach.” Newbold’s decision to fire her was deemed justified.

McCluskey’s parents filed a $56 million lawsuit against the university in June, alleging campus police ignored McCluskey’s repeated reports of stalking, intimidation, dating violence and other behavior prohibited under Title IX before she was killed by Rowland.

Dallof was not the only officer disciplined for incidents after the McCluskey murder.

On March 29, officer Miguel Deras was disciplined for failing to follow proper procedures in a separate domestic violence case. While responding to a recent domestic violence incident, Deras did not conduct a proper background check on a subject, and failed to call for backup, the discipline letter says.

In July, Brophy announced he will retire later this year, saying “the timing is right.” University officials echoed that the timing was right for him to “start a new chapter.”

Contributing: Dan Rascon