College student Lauren McCluskey had gone to the University of Utah police for help.
But after telling officer Miguel Deras that someone was extorting her over explicit photos she had taken of herself, instead of helping her track down the culprit the officer allegedly saved the photos to his personal phone and later bragged to a fellow officer about having the images days before McCluskey was killed by her blackmailer and ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, 37, according to a new report from The Salt Lake Tribune.
McCluskey had sent the images to campus police in 2018 after she began receiving suspicious emails threatening to post compromising photos of herself if she did not pay the sender just shortly after she had broken up with Rowland.
She had called the relationship off after discovering that Rowland had lied to her about his name, age and status as a registered sex offender and initially believed the messages may be coming from his friends.
She sent copies of the messages and images to the campus police as evidence in the case, but Deras, one of the officers assigned to the case, has been accused of saving the images to his phone and showing at least one photo to a coworker, bragging that he could look at the images any time he wanted, the paper reports.
A second officer also confirmed overhearing the conversation between Deras and a colleague, according to the paper.
But neither officer reported the incident and days later McCluskey was shot to death.
In a statement from the University of Utah obtained by Oxygen.com officials said they had already completed an investigation in the alleged incident and denied the account given in the paper.
“The University of Utah Police Department completed an internal affairs investigation in February 2020 once it was alerted to these allegations and found no evidence that a former officer had ‘bragged’ or shared any image from the investigation that wasn’t considered a legitimate law enforcement reason,” they said. “This was based on interviews with multiple officers who would have been present at briefings during this time period. No officers, currently or previously employed ever reported this at the time of occurrence.”
Since there was no finding during the investigation, university officials said there was no reason to report the incident the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) council, which is charged with disciplining law enforcement officers.
“The department has changed its processes for collecting and storing evidence of this nature to ensure this isn’t an issue moving forward,” they said.
University police Lt. Jason Hinojsa told The Salt Lake Tribune the department was not aware of the incident until Deras had already left the department in 2019. It only came to the department’s attention after the newspaper made a records request, which brought the incident to the forefront.
“He was long gone before we had any inkling that that incident with the photo being shown had occurred,” he said.
Lauren’s mother, Jill McCluskey, said in a post on Twitter in July 2019 that her daughter had repeatedly tried to contact Deras in the weeks before she died to get help.
“Miguel Deras was Lauren’s contact at campus police. She had 18 calls with him alone,” Jill McCluskey wrote. “On the day of her murder, she called him 3 [times] about a text impersonating an officer to lure her out of her dorm. He didn’t share that info with anyone. He was never disciplined for failing Lauren.”
Lauren was later killed by Rowland that same day on Oct. 22, 2018 near her dorm.
Rowland was found dead himself just a few hours later inside a nearby church. He had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The crime sparked outrage among the community after it was revealed that McCluskey had repeatedly gone to police to try to get help before her death.
Her parents, Jill and Matt McCluskey, filed a $56 million lawsuit in federal court against the University of Utah, claiming the university violated the federal law against gender discrimination in their daughter’s case.
Deras was one of the defendants named in the lawsuit.
In the statement to Oxygen.com, the university described McCluskey’s murder as a “pivotal moment” for the school.
“The university is committed to improving and reducing the likelihood of such a tragedy happening again on campus,” the statement read. “There is no end to this work, as the university will always need to be focused on and addressing safety.”
Many of the changes already made have involved policies, personnel, processes and physical improvements, officials said.
“The university continues to work to build an institutional culture that gives all members of the campus—and community stakeholders—confidence and trust in its ability to listen, support and respond appropriately,” they said.
Although he was not disciplined for his handling of Lauren McCluskey’s case, Deras was later disciplined in March 2019 for his handling of another woman’s domestic violence case, The Salt Lake Tribune reported last July.
According to the written warning obtained by the paper at the time, while on duty Deras failed to research a suspect’s parole status, did not include the man’s criminal history in reports and also interviewed a woman making a domestic violence complaint in front of her male partner.
Deras now works with the Logan Police Department.
After news of Deras’ alleged activities in the McCluskey case were published in the paper, the Logan Police Department issued a statement Sunday saying the department planned to launch an internal investigation.
“This is the first time we have heard about this allegation,” the statement said. “We are very concerned about this allegation and are starting our own internal investigation to determine the facts.”
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox also issued a statement on Twitter calling the allegations “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 (of) behavior isn’t actionable is not only wrong but dangerous,” he wrote.
McCluskey’s parents continue to advocate for change on the campus.
“The people who were supposed to be helping and protecting Lauren were actually exploiting her,” Jill McCluskey told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I wish that Deras had used his time to arrest the man who committing crimes against Lauren.”
Her father, Matt McCluskey said the “latest revelation makes me wonder when we’ll hit bottom.”
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