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Parents of slain student Lauren McCluskey reach $13.5M settlement with University of Utah

‘We failed Lauren and her family,’ school president says

SHARE Parents of slain student Lauren McCluskey reach $13.5M settlement with University of Utah
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Matt McCluskey hugs his wife, Jill, after she spoke at a press conference about a settlement agreement in the Lauren McCluskey lawsuit against the State of Utah outside of the Huntsman Center in Taylorsville on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. McCluskey was murdered by an ex-boyfriend after he abducted her outside of her dorm at the University of Utah.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The parents of murdered University of Utah student-athlete Lauren McCluskey have reached a $13.5 million settlement in their two lawsuits against the university.

During a press conference Thursday, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins along with McCluskey’s parents, Jill and Matt McCluskey, announced that the state, through its risk management agency and insurance provider, will pay $10.5 million to the McCluskeys. Another $3 million will be paid by the University of Utah in the form of a donation to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.

The settlement comes on the two-year anniversary of Lauren McCluskey’s death.

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Lauren McCluskey

Steve C. Wilson, University of Utah

In announcing the settlement, Watkins acknowledged the school failed in its duty to help McCluskey, and the university concedes that her murder was a “brutal, senseless and preventable” tragedy.

“The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, 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 protocols to guide their responses, the university believes they would have been better equipped to protect Lauren,” Watkins said, reading a prepared statement.

The McCluskeys and others criticized Watkins after she said in December 2018 that a report about the killing offered no reason to believe the death could have been prevented.

A soft speaking Jill McCluskey said Thursday she applauds the positive changes the University of Utah has made regarding campus security since her daughter’s death.

“This settlement is important for many reasons. It addresses how she died. But it 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,” she said.

With the university’s insurance provider agreeing to pay $10.5 million, Jill McCluskey hopes it “will cause insurance companies worldwide to view campus police who do not respond to women with urgency as a risk, and we hope that that changes policy nationwide.”

As part of the settlement, the university has pledged to raise funds to construct an indoor track facility and name it after Lauren McCluskey by Dec. 31, 2030. If it cannot raise those funds by that time, an additional $3 million will be donated to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.

“With this, we are honored that she will always have a presence on the campus and helping athletes and the sport that Lauren was so dedicated to,” Jill McCluskey said, noting that her daughter and other track athletes normally have to travel to the Olympic Oval in Kearns during the winter — about 45 minutes away — to train.

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University of Utah president Ruth Watkins, left, talks to Matt and Jill McCluskey, parents of Lauren McCluskey, during a press conference outside of the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City to announce a settlement in the McCluskys’ lawsuit against the U. on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Lauren McCluskey was was shot and killed on campus near her dorm by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, after weeks of being stalked and harassed by Rowland.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The school has also agreed to immediately rename the Center for Violence Prevention as the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention.

On Oct. 22, 2018, McCluskey, a 21-year-old communications major and track athlete from Pullman, Washington, was shot and killed on campus near her dorm by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, after weeks of being stalked and harassed by Rowland. Rowland fatally shot himself hours later as police were closing in to make an arrest.

In the weeks that followed McCluskey’s death, it was learned that she had sought for weeks to get help from University of Utah police without success.

From Oct. 10 until her death on Oct. 22, 2018, McCluskey called the campus police department more than 20 times reporting her concerns about Rowland, who had lied to McCluskey about his name, age and criminal history, which included serving time in prison for attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor — crimes that required him to be on the Utah Sex Offender Registry.

While he was harassing McCluskey, Rowland threatened to release compromising photos of her if she did not pay him $1,000, according to police.

McCluskey’s parents filed two lawsuits against the U: a federal civil lawsuit that sought $56 million, and a wrongful death lawsuit in state court. Thursday’s announcement settles both lawsuits.

“Our focus today is to honor Lauren’s death and look to the future. It is our desire that this lawsuit will help assure greater campus safety for women on the University of Utah’s campus and campuses throughout the nation,” the family’s attorney, Jim McConkie, said in a prepared statement.

Co-counsel Brad Parker added that Lauren McCluskey’s name has become synonymous with the social cause it propels.

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Tastan Sperling, a friend of slain University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, looks at photos of her during the Lauren McCluskey Memorial Walk at the McCarthey Family Track and Field Complex on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. McCluskey, a track athlete, was was shot and killed near her dorm by Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, on Oct. 22, 2018.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“Lauren McCluskey will always be associated with the need to more carefully monitor and make safe our nation’s campuses,” he said in a prepared statement. “Because of Lauren and the cause that bears her name, lives will be saved.”

Although an independent investigation concluded that university police may not have been able to prevent McCluskey’s death, the fallout from the turmoil that followed included the sudden retirement of former Chief Dale Brophy, the resignation of Deputy Chief Rick McLenon, and the firing of former U. officer Miguel Deras from the Logan Police Department after it was determined that he showed explicit photos of McCluskey that he had on his phone to other officers.

Another former university police detective assigned to McCluskey’s case, Kayla Dallof, was fired months after McCluskey’s death due to her performance in a separate domestic violence case.

The lawsuits contend that the university failed in its duty to investigate or take any action in McCluskey’s case.

The McCluskeys said the Lauren McCluskey Foundation will put the settlement money into programs that were important to their daughter, such as animal welfare, amateur athletics, as well as campus safety.

“We intend to do important things with this that will make campuses safer nationwide,” Jill McCluskey said.

Matt McCluskey said professors worldwide are now voluntarily taking part in “Lauren’s promise,” in which they pledge on the syllabuses they hand out to students that they will help them find the resources they need if they are in trouble.

“Our hope is (the settlement) will make the world better. And in specific, make the students across the country much safer,” he said.

“Most of all, we have hope for the future. And we hope that not only the University of Utah is a safer place, but that campuses will be safer nationwide because of what we are doing with the foundation,” Jill McCluskey said.