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Utah lawmakers want answers over allegations University of Utah cop shared explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey

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

SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers want answers in the wake of a report that a former University of Utah police officer saved explicit photos of slain student Lauren McCluskey on his personal cellphone and boasted about it to a fellow officer.

And Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, has opened a “priority” bill file that would prevent law enforcement from downloading private images to a personal device and sharing them with anyone not involved in the investigation.

“It’s a huge concern. It’s a breach of trust. It’s obviously something we need to address. Our laws haven’t caught up with our technology. I think that’s abundantly clear in this case and many others,” he said.

McCluskey shared with officer Miguel Deras photos that her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland, used to extort money from her, telling her he would publish them online if she didn’t give him $1,000. McCluskey’s parents and media reports say that before Rowland killed the University of Utah student in a campus parking lot, Deras allegedly showed the photos to another officer and bragged about getting to look at them whenever he wanted.

The university says an internal affairs investigation by campus police found “no evidence” that the incident occurred.

“We feel like it’s our duty to look into this,” said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, who co-chairs the Education Interim Committee. She described the allegation as “appalling.”

Henderson and Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, education committee co-chairman, plan to hold a hearing on June 15 where university and campus police administrators would be invited to explain protocols and procedures for safeguarding victims’ rights.

“The incident itself is terrible, but if it points to a broader problem systemically, that’s what we need to know as a Legislature and as a committee,” Henderson said.

Snow said he and Henderson don’t intend to investigate the allegation itself but want to delve into university police policies, “if they have any, and whether or not they need to be called into question or reviewed.” He said he wants prevent what allegedly happened in the McCluskey case from happening again.

“It is sobering that this alleged activity occurred within days of this victim losing her life,” said Snow, an attorney who has ran legislation to keep statements made to victim advocates confidential. He also was the House sponsor of a bill Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, ran requiring Utah colleges to develop and upgrade safety plans for students.

Students need to be able to attend college safely and know that if they report a crime, that their personal information, “particularly this kind of very intimate information,” is protected, Snow said.

Henderson said one of the purposes of the hearing is to find out if there are any “gaping holes” in campus policies that need to be fixed legislatively.

Stoddard, a Murray city prosecutor and former victim advocate, said his legislation is one of several avenues to pursue regarding the allegations against Deras.

“I think we need to address this from a lot of different angles,” he said on KSL Newsradio’s “Dave and Dujanovic” show.

The Utah Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training body needs to investigate the incident and “take a hard look” at the officer’s certification, Stoddard said. He also suggested Deras could be prosecuted under the state’s “revenge porn” law, and that the law might need to be broadened to “make sure to target this type of behavior.”

Stoddard also pointed to a “damning” audit of the university in the aftermath of McCluskey’s October 2018 death. A campus safety task force convened by U. President Ruth Watkins and an independent review of the school’s response to events surrounding the case resulted in dozens of recommendations and improvements.

“I don’t know if there’s been enough changes with that department,” Stoddard said. “We need to use the power of the state to make sure that we are protecting our students.”

Iwamoto is meeting with police, victim advocates, Title IX administrators, victims and students as part of an effort to build on her previous campus safety legislation. University police departments are among the topics the group is talking about over the summer.

“This is exactly one of the issues that came up,” she said of police storing evidence on their personal cell phones, as Deras is alleged to have done. “There’ll be many more things, I’m sure, coming up with Lauren McCluskey’s case.”

There have been “a lot of lapses,” not just at the U. but at other universities in the state, Iwamoto said.

Iwamoto’s working group plans to have policy recommendations and possible legislation in November.