The parents of University of Utah track star Lauren McCluskey have filed a lawsuit against the school claiming they neglected to respond to her “continuing pleas for help,” which resulted in her “avoidable and untimely death.”
The 21-year-old was gunned down by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, 37, outside a campus dormitory last October. He shot her seven times. Hours later, Rowland turned the gun on himself inside a Salt Lake City church while police searched for him.
McCluskey dated Rowland for about a month, according to her mother, Jill McCluskey. But he lied to her about nearly everything - his name, age and the fact that he was a registered sex offender. When she found out about his criminal past - he had been convicted of attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor in 2004, according to state records - she broke things off with him. But he evidently continued to stalk and harass her, prompting McCluskey to contact both university police and, later, Salt Lake City authorities.
"I'm worried because I've been working with the campus police at the U, and last Saturday I reported and I haven't gotten an update," she told Salt Lake City Police dispatch on Oct. 19, just three days before she'd be killed, according to CNN. "They haven't updated or done anything.”
Even before McCluskey broke things off with Rowland, he was abusive, according to a new $56 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the school, which her parents filed on Thursday.
“Lauren’s friends noticed that she would constantly check in with Melvin Rowland and would go out of her way to avoid displeasing him in any way,” the lawsuit, obtained by Oxygen.com states. “Even more concerning, Lauren’s friends began to notice bruising on Lauren’s body.”
The lawsuit claimed that the school repeatedly failed to respond to their daughter’s “multiple and continuing pleas for help.” It claims “Lauren and fellow students contacted the University of Utah more than 20 times to report Melvin Rowland’s abuse and did everything that they could to obtain help with regard to their concerns of escalating violence, the University and the Individual Defendants failed to take any action reasonably calculated to end the abuse and prevent its reoccurrence or to otherwise investigate the allegations, thereby acting with deliberate indifference and subjecting Lauren to further and ongoing abuse.”
Furthermore, they accused the school of being sexist, and that defendants targeted in the lawsuit based “their decisions on irrational gender stereotypes” including the bias “that women are unreasonable, irrational, hysterical and hypersensitive; that women overreact to situations; that women are spiteful; that women report abuse or harassment to get attention; that women have ulterior motives when they report abuse or harassment.”
Initially, a review of McCluskey’s case from the Utah Department of Public Safety determined that officers did not know how to look up criminal background or parole information. The university said such issues were system-wide and not the fault of any individual.
"The review team's report identified gaps in training, awareness and enforcement of certain policies rather than lapses in individual performance," the university stated, indicating that nobody would be fired or even disciplined over the student-athlete’s death.
However, in June, the university released a new update acknowledging that yes, “gaps and mistakes” were made in the case. It stated that the school is now “acting on its commitment to take steps to reduce the likelihood of such a terrible tragedy happening again on campus.”
In a Thursday statement, University President Ruth Watkins stated that she feels there are “differences” in how the university views the events leading to the murder and said the school would respond to the lawsuit in the court system. However, she said “let me say again that we share the McCluskey family’s commitment to improving campus safety.”
After McCluskey's death, Watkins referred to the slain student as "an accomplished student athlete" in a statement.
McCluskey’s mother said on Twitter Wednesday that any money collected from the case will go toward a foundation created in her daughter's name.
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