SALT LAKE CITY — An attorney representing the former University of Utah police officer accused of saving and sharing an explicit photograph of Lauren McCluskey said Tuesday that the events did not happen the way they have been reported.
“That is absolutely untrue,” attorney JC Jensen said while responding to allegations that officer Miguel Deras saved a picture of McCluskey on his personal cellphone.
On Sunday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that two unnamed university officers told them that Deras had not only saved a photo of McCluskey on his phone, but bragged that he could look at it anytime he wanted to.
“Again, this is untrue,” Jensen told KSL Newsradio’s “Dave and Dujanovic” show on Tuesday. “There are no statements or evidence that Mr. Deras bragged or boasted about anything.”
The allegations prompted a strong response from McCluskey’s parents, Matt and Jill McCluskey, and their attorneys on Monday.
“I wish he had used his time to arrest Lauren’s killer rather than ogling at her image,” Jill McCluskey said.
An internal affairs investigation was conducted in February by university police and it found no evidence that Deras had bragged about having the photos or shared them in any way “that wasn’t considered a legitimate law enforcement reason.”
But the U.’s new police chief says he has concerns about that report.
Chief Rodney Chatman announced Monday night that he is ordering another investigation into the allegations of photo sharing, and he placed two employees who conducted the February report on administrative leave.
“After personally reviewing the report today and consulting with the university’s chief safety officer, I have ordered a new investigation to be completed by an outside agency. This is due to the seriousness of the accusation, concerns I have with the thoroughness of the report, and my desire to avoid any perception of bias,” he said in a prepared statement.
“In addition to interviews with current police department employees, the review will include outreach to former department employees who were working at the time this alleged incident occurred.”
On Tuesday, Chatman announced that the Utah Department of Public Safety has agreed to conduct that investigation.
Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old communications major and track athlete from Pullman, Washington, was shot and killed on Oct. 22, 2018, 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.
From Oct. 10 until her death on Oct. 22, McCluskey called the U. 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 which 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 sent some of those photos to Deras to prove that she was being blackmailed.
On Tuesday, Jensen addressed what he called “deliberate misrepresentations” made in the newspaper article.
He said his client, Deras, was the officer originally assigned to take McCluskey’s call, but after receiving information about it, he was in the process of turning it over to the detective division.
The messages and pictures from McCluskey were sent to Deras’ police department email, Jensen said. He noted that many officers around Utah use their personal cellphones for work. In this case, he said Deras used his personal cellphone to check his work email.
“Aside from the photographs in question being on Mr. Deras’ department email, which was accessible via his phone, there’s no proof that those photos were saved from his department email to his phone,” Jensen said on “Dave and Dujanovic.” “We dispute the fact that any of these photographs were downloaded to his personal cellphone.”
Deras, a younger officer, then sought assistance from a more experienced supervisor on what to do with the McCluskey photos and how to transfer them to another file, Jensen said. At no time did his client boast or brag about having the photos, he said, stating that there is no collaborating evidence to show otherwise.
“How convenient is it that these officers remember the exact verbiage of a single sentence made during one if not hundreds of briefings they attended?’ Jensen mused of the claims made by other officers that Deras bragged about the photos and brought it up a year and a half after the fact.
Deras currently works for the Logan Police Department and as of Monday remained on active duty. Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said he was “blindsided” by the allegations which he had never heard, even though his department had conducted an “in-depth” background check before hiring Deras.
“I think I’m just sad that people read the headline and they impugn this officer,” he said Monday.
Later Tuesday, fellow attorney Jeremy Jones released a scathing 2 1⁄2 page response to the Tribune article, calling it a “disservice” to the McCluskey family and Utah law enforcement.
“The narrative targets and victimizes an officer without basis and has caused the public to become unjustly enraged over something that never happened,” Jones said in the prepared statement.
He said that the allegations against Deras “would be shocking and disgusting” if they were true. “Unfortunately for Lauren’s family, officer Deras and the public, based on the facts available, that story is patently false,” he said.
Jones also questioned the timing of the report, saying it’s “odd” it occurred just before a “major mediation between the university and the McCluskey family.”
Jill and Matt McCluskey have filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Utah claiming that their daughter’s death was preventable and the university failed in its duty to protect her. Their attorneys said they have a second lawsuit drafted, which includes the latest allegations of the Deras photo, but have agreed to hold off filing it pending the outcome of mediation talks regarding their first lawsuit, which were scheduled to take place Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The McCluskeys have not been harmed just once. Every time new facts come to light that the university knew or did not disclose, those scars are again torn open and Jill and Matt McCluskey are again deeply wounded. When will that end?” attorney Brad Parker said.