When Lauren McCluskey, a University of Utah senior and track star, first alerted campus police to the fact that someone had accessed compromising photos of her and was attempting to extort her for $1000 (£850) in 2018, she did not yet know that the man who was threatening her was the same one she had been dating for about a month — or that she’d soon be dead at his hands. But she forwarded the photos and threatening messages she’d received to campus police anyway, and now, nearly two years after her death, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that the officer who received them saved them to his personal cell phone and later flaunted the photos to male coworkers.
According to the report, one of the officers initially assigned to handle McCluskey’s complaint, Miguel Deras, once bragged to colleagues about being able to peek at the lewd photos anytime he wanted, and also showed the photos to at least one male co-worker. In the year and a half since McCluskey was killed, the Tribune has been probing the way the University of Utah handled the case, and confirmed the incident with the photos with both university officials and the officer who viewed them.
McCluskey's death happened years prior, though, when she was blackmailed and killed by a man she was dating. Although she paid her blackmailer, McCluskey took the evidence of the correspondence to the police before she was killed. In 2018, just days after Deras showed off the photos she had sent, McCluskey was fatally shot by a man she had been seeing for about a month.
Throughout the course of the relationship, her killer, 37-year-old registered sex offender Melvin Rowland, had reportedly lied about his name, age and criminal background, and had then tried to extort McCluskey by threatening to release the compromising photos in question as revenge porn. Despite her attempts to explain to police that she was being harassed, officials declined to intervene, and after an argument around 9pm one October night, Rowland fatally shot McCluskey in the back of a parked car shortly after she’d finished her night class.
The Tribune’s report on the mishandling of McCluskey’s photos is just the latest in a series of missteps the paper has exposed that show poor judgement by officers during the police proceedings. An independent review of the response conducted in 2018 found that police had waited nearly a week to open a formal case after McCluskey first called to report her concerns, and that there was “never an attempt by any of the officers involved to check [Rowland’s] ‘offender status.’”
That review eventually prompted McCluskey’s parents to file a $56 million civil rights case against the University of Utah alleging that an inadequate response by campus police had failed to prevent their daughter’s killing. McCluskey’s death also inspired Utah to propose legislation known as “Lauren’s Law,” which was aimed at holding gun owners accountable for any harm inflicted by their firearms, regardless of whether or not they were the one to pull the trigger.
Hours after the Tribune reported the news that an officer had shared the compromising photos McCluskey had provided, the Logan Police Department announced that it would conduct an internal investigation into Deras and his conduct. In a phone call, a representative for the Logan police told Refinery29 that the department had only learned of the possible new information from the Tribune’s report, and could not offer formal comment as it was in the initial stages of the investigation. They did, however, confirm that an investigation related to allegations against Officer Deras was underway.