Home U.S Parents of slain student reach $13.5million settlement with University of Utah

Parents of slain student reach $13.5million settlement with University of Utah


Two years to the day after student-athlete Lauren McCluskey was brutally murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend, the University of Utah announced that it will pay the victim’s family a total of $13.5million to settle two separate lawsuits. 

As part of the agreement that was reached on Thursday, the university acknowledged for the first’s time that McCluskey’s killing in October 2018 was ‘preventable.’ 

University of Utah President Ruth Watkins previously said that there was not ‘any reason to believe this tragedy could have been prevented.’

Lauren McCluskey's parents have reached a $13.5million  settlement with the University of Utah stemming from her October 2018 murder on campus

Lauren McCluskey’s parents have reached a $13.5million  settlement with the University of Utah stemming from her October 2018 murder on campus 

Matthew and Jill McCluskey, Lauren's parents, will receive $10.5million, and an additional $3million will go to a foundation they have started in their daughter's name

Matthew and Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s parents, will receive $10.5million, and an additional $3million will go to a foundation they have started in their daughter’s name 

News of the settlement comes a week after Salt Lake City’s top prosecutor announced that former University of of Utah campus police officer Miguel Deras will not face criminal charges for sharing McCluskey’s explicit photos with his co-workers after she complained she was being blackmailed by her ex-boyfriend, 37-year-old Melvin Rowland.

Less than two weeks after she first contacted campus police about the ‘sextortion’ plot, Rowland fatally shot her in a university parking lot, before turning the gun on himself. 

District Attorney Sim Gill said last week that the former officer’s actions were ‘definitely reckless,’ but there is no state law addressing the misconduct.

‘We’re incensed like everyone else by the behavior. It was inappropriate,’ Gill said. ‘But if there’s not a statute, there’s nothing we can do.’

Gill’s decision to not charge Deras sparked protests in Salt Lake City and earned criticism from McCluskey’s mother, who warned that it could create a chilling effect for women in similar situations.

Matthew and Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s parents, had filed two separate lawsuits against University of Utah and related entities, with their first complaint brought last year seeking $56million and alleging that officials could have done more to protect their daughter after claiming she contacted campus police multiple times in the weeks leading up to her death saying her ex-boyfriend was harassing her. 

On October 22, 2018, McCluskey was shot dead in the back of a car by her jilted boyfriend, 37-year-old Melvin Rowland

The man was a registered sex offender and lied about his age

On October 22, 2018, McCluskey was shot dead in the back of a car by her jilted boyfriend, 37-year-old Melvin Rowland. The man was a registered sex offender and lied about his age 

In this October 21, 2019 file photo, University of Utah students gather after walking out of classes during a demonstration over McCluskey's death

In this October 21, 2019 file photo, University of Utah students gather after walking out of classes during a demonstration over McCluskey’s death

The family’s second lawsuit, filed in June of this year, accused the University of Utah of discriminating against McCluskey based on her gender by ignoring her pleas for protection.

‘The University of Utah acknowledges that the murder of Lauren McCluskey was a brutal, senseless, and preventable tragedy and acknowledges the unspeakable loss the McCluskey family has suffered and continues to suffer,’ Thursday’s settlement reads, reported The Salt Lake Tribune.

As part of the agreement, the university will pay $10.5million to the student’s parents and donate an additional $3million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation dedicated to improving safety on college campuses across the country. 

University of Utah also will build an indoor track for McCluskey’s former track and field team by 2030 and name it after her.  

McCluskey, a senior and track-and-field athlete from Pullman, Washington, met Rowland at a local bar where he was working as a bouncer and began a relationship with him in September 2018. A friend said the 37-year-old man presented himself as a 28-year-old community college student named Shawn.

According to one of the lawsuits, some of Lauren’s closest friends sounded the alarm about her boyfriend, saying that he was possessive, controlling, manipulative and prone to jealous rages and stalking behavior, and raising concerns that the senior was in ‘an unhealthy and potentially harmful relationship.’ 

A month later, McCluskey learned Rowland’s true identity, including his actual age and the fact that he was a registered sex offender. At that point she decided to end the relationship. 

 

TIMELINE IN LAUREN MCCLUSKEY MURDER CASE:

Sept. 2, 2018: Lauren McCluskey met Melvin Shawn Rowland at a local bar where he was working as a bouncer and began a relationship with him. He visited her often at her residence hall and built friendships with other students in the building.

Oct. 9: Lauren learned Rowland’s real identity—including his actual age and the fact that he was a registered sex offender. At that point she decided to end the relationship. She invited Rowland to her dorm room and confronted him with the information. He admitted his sex offender status but denied the age difference. Lauren told him she was ending the relationship. He spent the night in her room and borrowed her car the following day to run errands.

Oct. 10: Campus dispatch was contacted by Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, who requested a campus security escort to help her daughter retrieve her vehicle from her ex-boyfriend.

University Police contacted Lauren and she initially declined the assistance, stating that Rowland was going to drop the vehicle at her apartment and she felt comfortable having him do that.

A dispatcher told Lauren she would have security officers near the building just in case and asked her to call back if the situation changed.

Oct. 10, 5 p.m.: Lauren called back and stated her car had been dropped off at the parking lot at Rice-Eccles Stadium and that she needed a ride to pick it up. A security escort responded and gave Lauren a ride to pick up her car.

Oct. 12: Lauren contacted University Police to report having received suspicious messages that she believed were from friends of her ex-boyfriend. The texts stated that Rowland was dead, and it was Lauren’s fault. She was able to determine by looking at social media that was untrue.

The reporting officer asked Lauren if she felt in danger or threatened by the texts. She stated she did not, but that she felt his friends were trying to lure her somewhere.

The officer told her to not go anywhere that made her uncomfortable and to call back if she received additional messages or contact.

Oct. 13, 9:22 a.m.: Lauren again contacted University Police to report receiving additional messages she believed were from her ex-boyfriend and/or her ex-boyfriend’s friends. The messages demanded money in exchange for not posting compromising photos of Lauren and Rowland on the internet. Lauren stated she sent $1000 to an account as demanded in hopes of keeping the photos private.

A report was taken, a criminal history was pulled and the case was assigned to a detective for follow up on possible sexual extortion charges.

Oct. 19: The formal investigation of the extortion charges began. A detective contacted Lauren to gather additional information about the extortion, to identify all suspects possibly involved and to seek an arrest warrant for Rowland and/or his acquaintances responsible for the alleged crime.

Oct. 19-22: Security video showed Rowland at various locations on campus.

Oct. 22, 10:39 a.m.: Lauren emailed police to report having received an additional text from a spoofed number claiming to be Deputy Chief Rick McLenon requesting she come to the police station. University Police now believe the text came from Rowland with the intent of getting Lauren to leave her dorm room.

Oct. 22, 3 p.m.-6 p.m.: Rowland spent the afternoon waiting for Lauren with some of her friends in the residence hall.

Oct. 22, 8:20 p.m.: Rowland confronted Lauren, who was on the phone with her mother, in a parking lot outside her residence hall. In the altercation, she dropped her cell phone and belongings. He dragged Lauren to a different spot in the parking lot where he forced her into the back seat of a car he had driven to campus. He shot her in the car multiple times.

Oct. 22, 8:23 p.m.: Dispatch received a call from Matt McCluskey, Lauren’s father, stating he believed his daughter was in trouble, relayed what her mother had heard on the phone, and requested that officers respond.

Oct 22, 8:32 p.m.: Police responded to the parking lot, located Lauren’s belongings and began searching her dorm, surrounding area and the parking lot. Additional resources were mobilized.

Oct. 22, 8:38 p.m.: Rowland was picked up by an acquaintance and leaves campus.

Oct. 22, 9:55 p.m.: During a search of the parking lot, police discovered Lauren’s body in the backseat of a vehicle.

Oct. 22, 9:56 p.m.: A secure-in-place alert was sent campus wide that stated there had been a shooting on campus.

Oct. 22, 10:09 p.m.: Alert sent with suspect information. Updates were sent approximately every 30 minutes reiterating the secure in place order.

Oct. 22, 11:46 p.m.: Alert sent lifting secure-in-place order after University Police determined suspect had left campus.

Oct. 23, 12:01 a.m.: Alert sent identifying shooting suspect as Melvin Rowland.

Oct. 23 12:46 a.m.: Salt Lake Police located Rowland and engaged in a foot pursuit. He entered Trinity A.M.E. Church, 239 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and as police entered the church he shot himself.

Oct. 23, 1:47 a.m.: Alert sent saying Rowland had been located and is no longer a threat.

 

In the weeks before her killing, Lauren repeatedly complained to police that Rowland was harassing her and using her private images to extort her

An officer shared her photos with his colleagues and bragged that he could look at them whenever he liked

In the weeks before her killing, Lauren repeatedly complained to campus police that Rowland was harassing her and using her private images to extort her. An officer shared her photos with his colleagues and bragged that he could look at them whenever he liked 

Lauren went to the campus police on October 13, telling officer Deras that Rowland had threatened to release compromising photos of herself, unless she paid him $1,000.  

Utah’s Department of Public Safety determined that Deras kept the X-rated images on his personal phones, showed them to at least three male co-workers, and was quoted as bragging to others that he got to ‘look at them whenever he wants’, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Other officers were quoted as telling Deras that he was ‘lucky’ to get to work on the case and McCluskey was a ‘cute girl.’

The family’s civil suit contended that despite the fact that Lauren made as many as 20 police reports about her ex-boyfriend, her concerns were never taken seriously and no action was taken to investigate Rowland, until it was too late. 

On the night of October 22, McCluskey was returning to her residence hall after class when she was confronted in the parking lot by Rowland, who forced her into the back of a car, drove to another location and shot her multiple times.

He was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours later. 

In the wake of the murder-suicide, an independent review was commissioned by the university and found that the school indeed missed warning signs of abuse before McCluskey was murdered. 

The McCluskey couple had filed two separate lawsuits against the university, alleging that officials could have done more to protect their daughter

The McCluskey couple had filed two separate lawsuits against the university, alleging that officials could have done more to protect their daughter

However, President Watkins said there’s no reason to believe Rowland could’ve been stopped.

After McCluskey’s parents sued the school, University of Utah pledged to run more frequent checks to identify ex-convicts and investigate on-campus complaints more thoroughly.

They’ve also hired more officers, increased training, streamlined communications between housing officials and police and opened the Center for Violence Prevention at the U, which will now bear Lauren McCluskey’s name.   

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