The University of Utah announced Friday that former Utah Department of Public Safety commissioner and retired attorney John Nielsen will head two independent reviews into the University Police Department and campus safety. The investigations will begin immediately. This step comes 11 days after Melvin Rowland shot and killed U student and track athlete Lauren McCluskey.
Another former public safety commissioner, Keith Squires, and International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators Executive Director Sue Riseling, formerly the police chief at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will assist Nielsen in the inquisitions. The panel will have full access to university staff and records, according to U President Ruth Watkins.
“I want to be clear that the review team will act with full autonomy,” she said.
No one on the three-person team is a university employee, Watkins stated, emphasizing that it is an independent review. She said the university chose these individuals because of their expertise and experience in law enforcement. Once the investigations are completed, Watkins told the press the university will publish the results.
“We want to do our best to share in an open and transparent way all that we can relate to this tragic event,” she said.
Watkins requested the team to produce a report on the investigation into UPD by Dec. 17. She said the review will look at the protocols, procedures and — despite earlier statements saying it wouldn’t — the actions of individual officers involved in the McCluskey case. UPD must provide the team with all documents relevant to the investigation within the week, Nielsen said.
Nielsen was hesitant to speculate what direction the review into UPD will take, but said it will address “questions that have been raised in the media as to whether or not Lauren’s concerns were taken seriously, whether or not there was the appropriate report to the parole board [and] whether the knowledge of who this guy was became available.”
The review into campus safety is to be finished in the spring, according to Watkins.
“We are not, however, waiting for the team to complete its work to take actions aimed at improving safety at the University of Utah,” Watkins said.
The Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Housing and Residential Education (HRE) at the U have been asked to increase training on reporting guidelines, resources available to help students and how to respond to emergency situations. Housing employees have complained that HRE promised to change emergency protocol following another slaying in 2017, but student leaders were not prepared for the most recent shooting.
“There have been so many discussions around what housing should be doing to address that in case this random act of violence happens again,” said Mohan Sudabattula, a programming assistant with HRE, on the night of the shooting. “Nothing has been done.”
According to HRE, it instructed staff to move students in Lassonde Studios and the Peterson Heritage Center (PHC) to the second level of their residence houses. On the night of Oct. 22, however, HRE had an all-staff meeting in the PHC, where employees remained for the duration of the lockdown instead of being moved to their respective residence halls, according to plan.
Watkins said the university will continue to invest in security cameras and lighting on campus, a move that was recommended by a campus safety task force assembled in 2016 in response to sexual assault incidents.
The Department of Public Safety at the U — the entity under which UPD operates — has reactively provided additional training to its detectives on case management and is self-evaluating its protocol “to provide more timely and efficient response services as well as how it prioritizes cases.”
McCluskey was killed in a parking lot outside her apartment on campus on Oct. 22 — 10 days after she reported to police she was being harassed by anonymous individuals, which police now believe to have been Rowland. After a foot pursuit, Rowland was found dead by self-inflicted gunshot in the upstairs of Trinity AME church.
Rowland and McCluskey dated for approximately one month. She broke up with him on Oct. 9 after she discovered he was lying about his name, age and criminal history. Rowland was a registered sex offender stemming from offenses in 2004 and was on parole.
When she initially contacted police on Oct. 12, police told McCluskey that “without any threats or anything of a criminal nature,” there wasn’t much they could do. On Oct. 13, McCluskey reported she was receiving messages demanding she send $1,000 to a bank account to keep intimate photos of her and Rowland from being posted online. UPD did not open up a formal investigation into the alleged sexual extortion until Oct. 19.
The parole officer supervising Rowland, who may have been arrested for violating the terms of his release, was never contacted by UPD. The police department never knew he was on parole, a fact that officers would have discovered if they ran his name through the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification database, which is standard for most police departments in the preliminary stages of a criminal investigation.
The review team has established two email addresses where individuals can submit anonymous tips regarding the events leading up to McCluskey’s killing and campus safety, which are ansr.me/UDeptPSReview and ansr.me/CampusSafety, respectively.
“We have committed to Lauren’s family that we will do everything we can to learn from this in the hope of preventing such a tragedy from happening again on our campus,” Watkins said.