For the past 18 months, I have been angry with the Watkins’ administration and the campus police, but on the morning of May 17, I reached a new level of irate. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that prior to Lauren McCluskey’s murder, Officer Miguel Deras, a University of Utah Campus Police Officer, saved explicit photos of McCluskey to his personal phone and showed them off to his co-workers. Deras only had access to these sensitive photos because McCluskey trusted the campus police and he was supposed to be investigating her sextortion case.
Since this revelation, the Logan Police Department, where Deras is currently employed, announced they have launched an internal investigation into the allegations against Deras. His continued employment with the department depends on the outcome of the investigation. Additionally, Major Scott Stephenson, who leads the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council — the state organization which oversees certifying officers — said that Deras’ behavior could be grounds for revoking his officer’s certification and he could possibly face charges for revenge porn. It is important to hold the officer who re-victimized McCluskey accountable, but students and community members need to ensure that the University of Utah is also held accountable and future students are protected.
The campus police department was aware of Deras’ behavior prior to the Tribune’s article but chose not to report the incident to POST. According to Lieutenant Jason Hinojosa, this decision was made not because the report against Deras was not credible, but because “[Deras’ actions were] not among the requirements to report to POST.” In an apparent attempt to avoid accountability, the U denied any wrongdoing claiming campus police “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 statement was later undercut when the new University of Utah Police Chief, Rodney Chatman, announced an independent investigation into the allegations against Deras citing concerns with the thoroughness of the original report.
Since McCluskey’s murder, university administrators and leaders have become adept at dodging accountability, making Chatman’s promise of an independent, public investigation refreshing. As Chatman noted his actions may “come as a disappointment to many in the community,” so it is important that student stakeholders and community allies take time to encourage behavior that promotes accountability within the university. By writing Chatman an email, students can not only thank him for ordering a new investigation but can also ask what he is doing to change the culture of the department and encourage officers to promptly report predatory behavior.
The Utah State Legislature is one of the few outside organizations that oversees the U. Since the allegations against Deras were made public, many state representatives are eager to flex that oversight. The Education Interim Committee has already announced a meeting for June 15 where university and campus police administrators are invited to explain protocols and procedures for safeguarding victims’ rights. Individual representatives have announced plans to run legislation to protect victims and hold the U accountable, but more should be doing so. To ensure the legislature utilizes their authority to improve campus safety, students and community allies should email their state representatives to encourage them to support existing efforts to hold the U accountable and ask what they specifically are doing to protect students.
A few hours after the story on Deras broke, UnsafeU, a student-led campus safety organization, called for the creation of an independent review board to investigate and recommend actions in similar cases. In an Instagram post, UnsafeU explained the need for such a committee, “The university has repeatedly demonstrated they have no ability to independently regulate and hold people accountable and are comfortable withholding information from the public.” While the U’s Chief Safety Officer, Marlon Lynch, is working to implement a committee that would review citizen complaints brought against members of the campus police department, this committee would not be independent of the university. To truly oversee the department, students need a review committee that functions outside of university control but has an information-sharing agreement with the U. Such a committee could be mandated by the Utah System of Higher Education Board of Regents, who can be emailed here.
The U has managed to dodge responsibility for student safety dozens of times since McCluskey’s death, but over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that students and community members have the power to improve campus safety. To develop accountability within the U, we need to encourage responsible leadership like Chatman’s and demand more. To ensure the legislature holds the U accountable, we cannot allow the outrage about McCluskey’s death and re-victimization to be forgotten by next year’s legislative session. To make systemic change, we need to champion the establishment of an independent review committee. All of these actions will promote accountability and will protect future U students.