SALT LAKE CITY — At least one legislative committee plans hearings and some lawmakers are drafting bills in response to the latest revelations surrounding the University of Utah's handling of Lauren McCluskey's blackmail complaints and, ultimately, her murder.
"We have, as legislators, an oversight role. It’s our duty to look into situations like this to see if any legislative action needs to be taken," said Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, who co-chairs the Utah State Legislature's Interim Education Committee.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Sunday that former University of Utah Police Officer Miguel Deras had bragged to a co-worker that he had downloaded and kept explicit photos of McCluskey, who had given them to police as evidence in the blackmail complaint she filed with the U. McCluskey was later murdered by the man who had been blackmailing her, Melvin Rowland.
The Tribune obtained the information under a public records request. Deras, who had left the department, was never disciplined. He is now under investigation by the current agency he works for, Logan police. In a statement, the University of Utah said it had completed an internal affairs investigation and "found no evidence that a former officer had 'bragged' or shared any image from the investigation that wasn’t considered a legitimate law enforcement reason."
"This was based on interviews with multiple officers who would have been present at briefings during this time period. No officers, currently or previously employed ever reported this at the time of occurrence. Because there was no finding, the incident was not reported to POST. The department has changed its processes for collecting and storing evidence of this nature to ensure this isn’t an issue moving forward," the U. said.
Sen. Henderson told FOX 13 she intended to hold a hearing over the summer to find out what happened.
"The incident itself was horrible. But we want to see if that particular incident has a broader implication," she said. "If it was a one-time thing, or if there are holes and gaps that need to be covered in the policies and protocols regarding campus safety, regarding the collection and storage of sensitive evidence. We want to make sure any student victims’ privacy is protected and so that’s what we’re going to be looking for."
Two lawmakers said they had already opened bill files to begin looking at further legislation. Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, said she wanted to see if Utah's revenge porn law applies in this circumstance -- and if it doesn't -- tweak the law.
"We have to make sure we remember these are allegations. We have an officer that will go through procedures and policies that he is due," Rep. Kwan told FOX 13 on Monday. "The revenge porn statute talks about whether or not a person has a reasonable understanding that distributing the image, the intimate image, would cause harm, right? So that’s where I’m looking at. I’m also looking at whether or not law enforcement, especially with victims, they hold a special relationship of trust."
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said he opened a bill file on Sunday to also look at Utah law enforcement access to private images and sharing them.
"Most police officers I work with have been nothing but kind to victims. I know there are some who are not, and this is horrific that this type of behavior would happen," said Rep. Stoddard, whose day job is a Murray City prosecutor.
Rep. Stoddard also raised the possibility of seeking to disband the University of Utah's police force, letting Salt Lake City police or the Utah Highway Patrol take over.
"It’s an option on the table. I’d like to see them be heavily scrutinized," he said. "They’ve had a lot of missteps. Not just on this case, but a lot of the cases they’ve handled with women."
The legislature has considered bills before related to McCluskey's murder. Rep. Stoddard ran a gun bill that failed to advance on Capitol Hill over the past two years. Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, passed a bill to require college campuses to beef up security plans.