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More staff, increased training among changes at University of Utah after review of Lauren McCluskey murder case

Posted at 8:40 AM, Dec 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-19 23:56:34-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The University of Utah released the findings and recommendations from a pair of reviews into the school's handling of the Lauren McCluskey murder case Wednesday.

Despite several missed opportunities, University of Utah President Ruth Watkins said the report from the independent review board, made of former Utah Commissioner of Public Safety John Nielsen, former Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Squires, and Executive Director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators Sue Riseling, is simply an opportunity to learn and do better.

“The report does not offer any reason to believe that this tragedy could've been prevented,” Watkins said.

In a press release, the university outlined several steps they are taking to make their campus safer.

  • Adding staff in the University of Utah’s Behavioral Intervention Team, Department of Public Safety (UUPS) and Housing and Residential Education (HRE).
  • Training police officers and HRE in the Lethality Assessment Program.
  • Streamlining the reporting process for cases that potentially involve personal safety.
  • Ensuring staff understand and enforce policies and protocols regarding guests in residence halls and guns on campus.
  • Directing police officers to conduct mandatory offender information checks when a suspect has been identified in a criminal case and matters more significant than routine traffic stops.
  • Evaluating current record management systems used by UUPS and HRE to see if better systems or upgrades should be adopted.
  • Improving communication between key entities on- and off-campus.

“We are acting on all the insights and recommendations in the review team’s report, which identified gaps in our training, awareness and enforcement of certain policies and offers us a road map for strengthening security on our campus,” U of U President Ruth V. Watkins said.

The university is aims to add at least five more officers to the University Police Department, and they are also working to increase pay to prevent qualified officers from seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Lauren McCluskey was shot and killed on the U of U campus by a man she previously dated briefly. That man lied to her about his age, his criminal history and his status as a sex offender.

University of Utah Police's handling of the case has drawn scrutiny. McCluskey had reported the man's behavior to police more than a week prior to her death. 

Melvin Rowland was on parole and some of the claims Lauren McCluskey made to the University would’ve been in violation of his terms of release.

“None of the officers involved sought to discover if Rowland was under the supervision of Adult Probation and Parole,” Nielsen said.

However, even if the officers had notified AP&P, Utah Commissioner of Public Safety Jess Anderson questioned if it would’ve made a difference.

“There is much discretion within the system, the justice system, as to whether or not these agents can take on, automatically go in and arrest on offender,” Anderson said.

Watkins said Wednesday that Rowland was a master manipulator and practiced liar who exploited McCluskey.

"Lauren McCluskey's murder is a terrible tragedy for our campus," she said during the press conference. "Melvin Shawn Rowland was a criminal. A manipulative, evil, criminal."

In the press release, Watkins also took personal responsibility for improving campus safety.

“I am holding myself and my leadership team responsible for making these changes,” Watkins said. “Our commitment to Lauren, her friends and family, as well as our students, parents, staff, faculty and community is that safety will continue to be a top priority at the University of Utah.”

The review team found that campus police are understaffed, overworked and underpaid.

"This is due in large part to a salary and wage disparity and also changes to the state public safety retirement system,” Nielsen said.

They also said the detective assigned to McCluskey's case was juggling several other investigations at the same time, including a child sex abuse case from Primary Children's Hospital and a felony fraud case involving a U of U medical center.

The review team will now work with a task force going forward to look at more general areas where campus safety could be improved.

The University of Utah will also add online educational courses for students, expected to be available Summer 2019. Mandatory online training for students is set to be in place by Fall of 2019.

The press release also included this FAQ:

Q. What recommendations from the report are you accepting? Do you disagree with anything in the report?

A. We agree with the review team’s assessment and accept all its recommendations. We have already implemented some actions in response to the team’s findings and are moving ahead with others, as outlined in our formal response.

Q. Why were the university’s housing policies not followed in this case?

A. This tragedy brought to light that we have work to do in enforcing housing policies and educating both our students and staff of the consequences of not following those policies. As stated in our response to the review team’s report, we have and are actively engaged in doing more to ensuring adherence to all policies.

Q. Are you taking any disciplinary action?

A. The review team’s report identified gaps in training, awareness and enforcement of certain policies rather than lapses in individual performance. We believe the solution to those problems is better training, awareness and education of staff and students.

Q. When will you release recordings and other documents related to the investigation of this case?

A. Materials related to this case will be reviewed for release once all investigations are complete.

The  Utah Department of Public Safety has released a redacted copy of their investigation report, which is embedded below:

See our earlier coverage of the review results here: