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Amid allegations officer 'bragged' about explicit photos of murder victim, U of U PD orders outside investigation

Posted at 10:39 PM, May 18, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah Police Department announced Monday night that it is ordering an outside investigation into how one of its former officers handled explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey before she was murdered on campus by an ex-boyfriend.

According to her parents, Lauren sent the photos to the officer as evidence of extortion against the man she dated, with the expectation that they'd arrest the man -- who was a convicted felon violating parole.

Instead, that man shot and killed Lauren before he died by suicide.

The Salt Lake Tribune uncovered accusations that the officer, Miguel Deras, saved the explicit photos to his personal phone, showed a photo to a co-worker and also "bragged" about the pictures.

The University of Utah originally stated that a February 2020 investigation found no evidence the officer "bragged" or shared any image that wasn't considered a legitimate law enforcement reason.

However, U of U Police Chief Rodney Chatman is now saying he's ordering the outside investigation partly because of concerns he has with the thoroughness of the report.

The report, which Chief Chatman said was completed prior to his joining the department, found a photo was shared in the context of a shift-change briefing.

The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with an officer who appeared to have firsthand knowledge of the situation, and confirmed the misconduct allegations.

"If this is true, it is a serious breach of trust and a violation of professional law enforcement standards and the officer must be held accountable by the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)," Chief Chatman wrote.

He also stated that he has placed those responsible for the original report on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the new investigation.

Hours before Chief Chatman's announcement, Lauren's parents made public statements as they reacted to the new revelations.

Jill and Matt McCluskey are headed into mediation Tuesday and Wednesday, as they seek to settle their lawsuit against the University of Utah over Lauren's death.

"It turns out that the only thing that Officer Deras did was download the photos that Lauren provided as evidence to his personal phone to use for his own enjoyment," Jill McCluskey said, reading a statement from Pullman, Washington over video conference. "The person who was supposed to provide police services to Lauren instead exploited her. I wish he had used his time to arrest Lauren's killer rather than ogling at her image. We hope something is done."

Matt McCluskey said that Lauren's trust was betrayed by officers who were sworn to protect her.

"Makes me wonder how much misconduct remains undiscovered," he said. "The officer's behavior was not isolated--it stemmed from a culture that did not take women seriously and refused to hold individuals accountable."

He said for the sake of their students, the U needs to "finally take responsibility."

The lawyers representing the McCluskeys in their lawsuit, James McConkie and Brad Parker, said they can file a new lawsuit but will hold off at the UofU's request.

They described how it all comes down to what happens at mediation. McConkie and Parker expressed that the McCluskeys just want the University of Utah to admit wrongdoing and take responsibility. They said they are hoping for full disclosure and honest, open discussion.

If a settlement agreement is decided upon, any money from the lawsuit would go straight to a nonprofit that the McCluskeys established to promote safety on college campuses around the US, the pair of lawyers explained.

In addition to a new investigation conducted by an outside agency, Officer Deras will also be investigated by Logan Police, where he currently works.

"We are taking the allegations seriously and are investigating the claims, while ensuring due process is also being served," wrote Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen, in a press release.

Originally, the University of Utah Police Department said it did not share the findings of the report with POST.

Defense attorney Greg Skordas, who teaches as at the police academy, said POST can still launch its own investigation anyway.

"You can be sure that POST will at least do some minimal investigation," he said. "Probably more than that."

He indicated that this kind of misconduct, if true, is grounds for firing as well as the potential for revocation or suspension of police certification.

However, he doesn't believe that this alleged misconduct was illegal or criminal, as others--including the lawyers for the McCluskeys-- have claimed.

"I don't see a crime that fits this conduct," he said. "It doesn't mean it's not misconduct, but it means it's probably not criminal misconduct."

Once the new report is completed by the outside agency, Chief Chatman said he'll be releasing it to the public.

He said that if his police department is to regain credibility in the eyes of the community it serves, this new review must be completed swiftly.

Chief Chatman also stressed that the University of Utah Police Department has made a number of changes since Lauren's death, in both policy and process, in how cases are investigated and digital files are handled.

"I recognize this will take time, but I want to assure the campus community that when the calls come, my officers will respond," he wrote. "And they will do so with the respect and professionalism expected from all Utah law enforcement professionals."