U Students Outraged at Mishandling of Explicit Photos in the Lauren McCluskey Case


Students, staff, family and friends attend a vigil on the steps of the Park Building for Lauren McCluskey who was tragically killed on campus at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Megan McKellar, News Writer


On May 17, the Salt Lake Tribune published an article which described how Miguel Deras, a former University of Utah police officer assigned to Lauren McCluskey’s case, saved explicit images of her to his phone prior to her murderHe also showed the images to a male colleague and bragged about “getting to look at them whenever he wanted, according to the article.  

The independent review conducted shortly after McCluskey’s death revealed several issues in the handling of the case by the University of Utah Department of Public Safety, according to the review’s report 

McCluskey’s parents responded to the case’s newest developments in a press conference the day after the Tribune’s article was published. Jill McCluskey, McCluskey’s mother, said she expected Deras to arrest the man who had been stalking and blackmailing her daughter after she provided evidence against him. 

“The only thing officer Deras did was download the photos she provided as evidence to his personal phone for his own enjoyment,” she said. 

The recent reveal of information was met with instant outrage from students and a demand from citizens and students alike to get Officer Meras fired. A petition was started to ‘Fire and Press Charges against Miguel Deras for Distributing Lauren McCluskey’s Photos’ and has received over 88,000 signatures.

The Logan Police Department, where Meras is currently employed, announced they have opened an investigation into the officer, but the department has not announced further action.

Unsafe U, an independent organization that seeks to raise awareness of safety issues at the U, wrote in an Instagram post that they have demanded the U create an independent board to investigate and recommend actions in cases such as these.

“We need to be able to trust that when we reach out for help, our own police force is not going to further harm us,” the caption said.

The post had 50 comments from students and all were upset and disappointed about the developments.

User @aubreypsb commented, “@universityofutah I am ASHAMED TO CALL MYSELF AN ALUMNI RIGHT NOW. This is absolutely sickening.”

On May 23, the University of Utah Students for a Democratic Society held a car protest in response to the news about the mishandled photos. The protest took place outside of the gated community where U President Ruth Watkins lives.

Bryn Dayton, member of SDS, said that the group is focusing on the lack of accountability from both the police department and the university. 

We only know about this because the Salt Lake Tribune has been putting in requests for information. It’s upsetting and it makes me angry, and everybody in SDS is just disgusted,” Dayton said. 

Dayton said that the newest aspect of the case shows that there’s a systemic problem of misogyny in the police department and that SDS is committed to fighting against establishing an auxiliary police station in the Union. In February 2020, it was proposed by ASUU that the U build a place for the University Police Department to exist within the A. Ray Olpin Union. 

SDS does not feel it appropriate to have a police station where the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs is housed, where the LGBT Resource Center is housed and where the Women’s Resource Center is housed. The police are systemically racist, anti-women, homophobic and transphobic. We cannot have an auxiliary station in the Union that is for students, Dayton said.  

Ashley Merrell, an undergraduate student studying physics, said that the university should be hiring officers who show empathy and who want to keep students safe, since students are an especially vulnerable population. She was heartbroken, disappointed and ashamed when she found out about the mishandled photos.  

“I don’t trust officers … I don’t see any reason why I should be putting my trust in them,” Merrell said. 

In response to the article released by the Tribune, a graduate student who preferred to remain anonymous said that she felt embarrassed to be affiliated with the U, and that she has no faith in the university administration, university police force and Utah state police in general. They felt angry that administrators have failed to take accountability and address the underlying issue of sexism.  

“The fact that someone thought it was ‘okay’ for him to save Lauren’s photos and then share them with coworkers, and had co-workers who didn’t say one word or report him, goes to show the culture that is present within many organizations, like the U police department, condones sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.,” the student said. 

Additionally, Erin Johnston, a recent graduate of the U, is entering her PhD at the U in the fall. She said she identifies herself as a member of the chemistry department before identifying as a Ute because of the deep sadness she feels for the mishandling of McCluskey’s case. 

It was clear that the time to take action against the officer’s behavior had long since passed, and that felt like insult to injury,” Johnston said. 

She also felt that McCluskey’s murder had many layers, including systemic abuse of police authority, pervasive presence of white nationalists on campus that ascribe the murder to an issue of race, and money and reputation. 

In a statement released May 18, University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman said that the allegations are “an especially egregious offense on a college campus where young women are already reluctant to report sexual assault to police for fear of not being believed or no action being taken if they report a crime. 

Chatman has also ordered a new independent investigation into the case. The investigation will be conducted by officials from the Utah Department of Public Safety. 

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