SALT LAKE CITY — A group of University of Utah students is fed up with a legal system they say does not do enough to protect victims.
Wednesday evening, a campus group called “Unsafe U” marched to the office of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
Members and their allies are upset Gill’s office did not charge a former University of Utah police officer who was working on a case involving murdered student Lauren McCluskey.
Officer Miguel Deras was assigned to McCluskey’s extortion case in 2018.
In the days before she was killed, McCluskey reported to police that a man she had dated was threatening to show explicit photos of her unless she paid him money.
Deras had those photos and showed them to his coworkers who were not involved in the case.
On October 22, 2018, McCluskey will killed by the man who was extorting her.
Last week, Gill’s office announced Deras would not face any legal repercussions for his actions in handling the case.
That decision inspired this protest.
“I didn’t know Lauren personally, but her death was tragic for anyone on campus,” said Rebecca Hardenbrook, a University of Utah student and organizer with Unsafe U.
The group of roughly 50 people chanted, “Justice for Lauren” on the steps outside Gill’s office.
They accused the district attorney of failing to hold law enforcement accountable.
“I would say every step of the way, she was failed by the people who had the power to do something about this and protect her,” Hardenbrook said.
Gill empathizes with the protesters.
“I share their frustration and anger. When you look at the allegations here, what he did is unacceptable,” Gill said.
But Gill adds, there is no law included in the Utah Code that would allow him to successfully file charges against Deras. He believes this is an issue that extends well beyond his office to Utah’s Capitol Hill.
“As soon as we became aware of it, we contacted the legislature to say there is a deficit here,” Gill said. “This is something victims should not ever have to go without.”
Hardenbrook says her group has met with lawmakers and is looking forward to the 2021 legislative session.
In the meantime, there are concerns about safety both on and off campus.
“If I were to be assaulted in any way, I would have no trust in the process,” Hardenbrook said. “I have lived in Salt Lake City for 6 and a half years, and I have never felt less safe in my life.”
While the two years since McCluskey’s passing have been frustrating, Hardenbrook isn’t going to stop speaking up.
“We must refuse to sit down. We will not be told that her fight is over,” Hardenbrook said.