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University of Utah says it found no evidence officer shared explicit Lauren McCluskey photos

Lauren McCluskey
Lauren McCluskey
Steve C. Wilson, University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — In response to a report Sunday that a former University of Utah police officer tasked with helping Lauren McCluskey before her October 2018 murder saved explicit photos of her and boasted about them to another officer, the U. said it has “no evidence” that the incident occurred.

McCluskey had shared the photos with officer Miguel Deras that her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Shawn Rowland, used to extort money from her, telling her that if she didn’t give him $1,000, he would publish them online.

Before McCluskey was killed, Deras showed the other officer at least one of the photos he had saved on his personal phone and “bragged about getting to look at them whenever he wanted,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported Sunday.

The newspaper says it interviewed two officers who witnessed the incident and that the university itself confirmed it through unspecified records requests.

But the university claims its police department completed an internal affairs investigation into the incident in February after hearing about the allegations. Its investigation concluded that there was no evidence that Deras had ever “bragged or shared any image from the investigation that wasn’t considered a legitimate law enforcement reason.

“This was based on interviews with multiple officers who would have been present at briefings during this time period,” U. officials said in a prepared statement.

“No officers, currently or previously employed ever reported this at the time of occurrence. Because there was no finding, the incident was not reported to (Peace Officer Standards and Training) at the time. The department has changed its processes for collecting and storing evidence of this nature to ensure this isn’t an issue moving forward,” according to the statement.

In July 2019, the U. police department tried to collect data from Deras’ cellphone but most of the files were corrupted, the Tribune reported. Potential conflicts of interest arose as the officers conducted the search using West Valley police equipment rather than equipment from the Utah Department of Public Safety. Then-U. Police Chief Dale Brophy worked in West Valley City previously.

Deras resigned from the university’s police department on Sept. 15 after spending four years there. He is currently a Logan police officer.

“This is the first time we have heard about this allegation,” Logan police said in a prepared statement on Sunday. “We are very concerned about this allegation and are starting our own internal investigation to determine the facts. At the end of the investigation we will take whatever action is appropriate based on the facts we discover. We will not have further comment until we have information from our investigation to comment on.”

Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted a response to the report Sunday morning: “Disgusting and tragic. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the department could have handled this case worse. And the idea that this type behavior isn’t actionable is not only wrong but dangerous.”

Deras was disciplined in March 2019 for not conducting a proper background check on a subject, failing to call for backup, and interviewing a woman in the presence of her boyfriend while responding to a domestic violence incident in February.

Deras is one of a number of defendants named in a $56 million lawsuit filed against the University of Utah by McCluskey’s parents, alleging it has not taken responsibility for their daughter’s on-campus murder.

A three-member independent review panel found that numerous mistakes were made by the U. and campus police handling McCluskey’s case in the weeks leading up to her killing. However, the panel concluded that it was impossible to say whether McCluskey’s death could have been prevented.

In Sunday’s statement, the U. said it has made significant changes and improvements since McCluskey’s death, including hiring a new chief safety officer and a new police chief. The university also said it “remains willing to settle” the McCluskey family lawsuit out of court and hopes to find a neutral third party to facilitate such a settlement.