SALT LAKE CITY — Around three dozen people gathered outside the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office Wednesday night to protest the lack of prosecution against former University of Utah police officer Miguel Deras.
Deras showed explicit photos of student Lauren McCluskey to other officers multiple times before and after her murder in 2018. McCluskey had sent him the photos as evidence she was being blackmailed. One officer claimed Deras had said he could look at the photos “whenever he wanted.”
Attorney Jeremy Jones, who represents Deras, has maintained that Deras denies any wrongdoing.
McCluskey was shot and killed on campus in October 2018 by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, who had lied to the University of Utah student athlete about his name, age and the fact that he was a registered sex offender on parole. Rowland killed himself later that night as police closed in on him.
Last week, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced that Deras would not be prosecuted, stating that his actions were “reckless” but did not violate any current Utah laws.
“I think the anger or the frustration people feel, that is legitimate,” Gill said at the time. “But there is just not a criminal remedy that is available. And it was not for lack of trying to find it. It was frustrating for our team.”
Organizers of the protest said Gill’s decision and reasoning is “patently incorrect” and is the latest sign that he’s not doing his job adequately.
“We’re trying to deliver a message to Sim Gill that he did not deliver justice for Lauren,” said Rebecca Hardenbrook, University of Utah graduate student and co-founder of Unsafe U, the group that organized the protest. “We are also trying to deliver a message on a larger note that Sim Gill needs to be voted out of office, and that is something that we have the power to do. We know that he has a record of not doing his job, not standing up for women.
“His tenure, in my mind, is over. It’s time for him to leave, to resign. Ideally, I would like to see that. But we need to primary for someone who will actually serve justice to our full community.”
The protestors, many of them students, gathered in Washington Square Park before marching down the street to the district attorney’s office, chanting “Justice for Lauren” and “Sim Gill, prosecute and jail these crooked cops.”
At the district attorney’s office, the protestors lit candles and listened to several speakers, including Ephraim Kum, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah.
Kum said that as a man, he wasn’t sure it was his place to speak at the protest, but he was convinced after being told how important it is for men to speak up about such issues.
“It is critical that men everywhere are holding each other accountable and are speaking up, and so that’s why I’m here,” he said. “Listen to me, and listen to me very closely. This has to stop. Our tendency to be perpetrators of this violence and harm has to stop. Our tendency to protect people that we know to be perpetrators, it has to stop. Our tendency to not believe women and survivors and victims has to stop.
“If you have a position of power and you’re not using it to help people but rather to contribute to the harm and the damage and the pain and suffering, you should not be in your position.”
Once the speakers finished, the protestors taped dozens of signs to the exterior of the building that read “Justice for Lauren.”
“I think that the glass windows here really serve for like a perfect place to post posters, but I think we’ve seen sort of a precedent of leaving our mark at protests, which has been impactful and serves as an impactful visual reminder,” Hardenbrook said.
Two vigils are scheduled for Thursday, the two-year anniversary of McCluskey’s murder. The first will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the University of Utah track, where McCluskey competed as a track and field athlete, and the other at 6 p.m. at the district attorney’s office.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated Lauren McCluskey was killed in October 2016. McCluskey was killed in October 2018.