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University of Utah asks judge to dismiss lawsuit filed in Lauren McCluskey’s death

Lauren McCluskey, Utah Cross Country and Track and Field, photographed Aug. 30, 2017, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Lauren McCluskey, 21, was the University of Utah student who was killed Monday night, Oct. 22, 2018.
Lauren McCluskey
Steve C. Wilson, University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah filed a motion Friday asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Lauren McCluskey’s parents, arguing that the slain student’s family does not have grounds to sue the school.

The McCluskey family filed the $56 million lawsuit against the university in June, saying the University of Utah had not taken responsibility for the death of their daughter last October at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland. The complaint also names as defendants the then-chief of the university’s police department, three other officers, and three university housing employees.

The lawsuit alleges that university police ignored McCluskey’s multiple reports of stalking, abuse, intimidation, dating violence, and other behavior prohibited under Title IX in the weeks leading up to the student-athlete’s “tragic, avoidable and untimely death.” It argues that the university and its employees violated Title IX and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The McCluskeys at the time described the lawsuit as a last resort to try to make the University of Utah campus safer.

“We had hoped for an adult conversation with the University of Utah administration, to work with them to build a safer future for all students,” Matt McCluskey said in June. “Regrettably, the administration has chosen the path of defensiveness, denial and no accountability.”

The motion to dismiss filed by the university Friday argues, among other points, that harassment perpetrated by someone who isn’t a student or employee of the university cannot be the basis for a Title IX claim against the school, as the university does not have “substantial control” over a person who isn’t affiliated with the university.

The motion also says the lawsuit fails to demonstrate that university staff members’ actions were related to McCluskey’s gender, or that Chief Dale Brophy’s alleged failure to train officers caused those officers to violate McCluskey’s constitutional rights. In fact, the motion argues, the lawsuit does not prove that staff members violated McCluskey’s “clearly established constitutional rights” at all.

McCluskey, 21, was shot and killed on Oct. 22 near her campus dorm by 37-year-old Rowland, a convicted sex offender who was on the Utah Sex Offender Registry at the time of the murder. The two had dated, but McCluskey broke things off when she found out Rowland had lied to her about his name and age.

In response, McCluskey told police, Rowland tried to blackmail her for money by threatening to distribute intimate photos of her.

McCluskey called the university police department to report the harassment multiple times from Oct. 10 to the time she was killed, and even called Salt Lake police. But campus police never conducted a full background check on Rowland, and at least one call that McCluskey made to the officer assigned to her case went to voicemail because the officer was not on duty.

McCluskey’s parents also said university housing employees did not take any action when McCluskey’s friends reported that Rowland had talked about bringing a gun to campus.

An independent review panel found that a number of mistakes were made by the university and university police. However, the panel concluded that it was impossible to say whether McCluskey’s death could have been prevented.