University of Utah Police Department Releases Investigation Report on the Former Officer Miguel Deras, Unsafe U Shows Up to Protest

UnSafe+U+protesters+gather+at+the+Public+Safety+Building+on+the+University+of+Utah+campus+in+Salt+Lake+City+to+protest+the+actions+of+officers+involved+in+the+Lauren+McCluskey+case+on+Aug.+6%2C+2020.

Ivana Martinez

UnSafe U protesters gather at the Public Safety Building on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City to protest the actions of officers involved in the Lauren McCluskey case on Aug. 6, 2020.

University of Utah students met outside the Department of Public Safety on Aug. 6 at 4 p.m. over a year and a half after the murder of Lauren McCluskey to once again protest the U administration’s and the police department’s handling of the case and report. 

The Investigation

The protest was held after the University of Utah Police Department released the report of the investigation into Officer Miguel Deras’ handling of the explicit photos McCluskey turned into police when she reported her ex-boyfriend and murderer Melvin Rowland for blackmailing and stalking. In an article published by the Salt Lake Tribune, Courtney Tanner reported that Deras allegedly downloaded the photos of McCluskey to his personal phone, showed them to coworkers and bragged about getting to look at them on his own time.

On Aug. 5, an independent review conducted by the University Department of Public Safety was released to the public. In this review, it was found that Deras did not download explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey. 

Rodney Chatman, the chief of U police issued a statement in response to this review. 

In summary, investigators found no evidence that a former University of Utah officer inappropriately downloaded extortion photos that had been emailed to him by the victim or that he had electronically transferred those photos to anyone other than the detective assigned to the case,” Chatman said. 

Although the photos were not downloaded, they were shared by a few officers during a shift change. Several officers reported talking and looking at the photos, making crass and inappropriate comments, which were not specified within the report.

“As I wrote in May, it is inexcusable for any law enforcement officer to discuss photos or information provided by a victim outside of clear and legitimate law enforcement reasons. I am deeply disturbed by this finding and disappointed in the officers who were present and who did not report this incident through appropriate university channels,” Chatman said. 

Chatman said he considers these actions inexcusable. However, it is unclear whether or not serious employment actions will be taken against these officers. 

“While employment actions are confidential, it is important that the university community understands we are pursuing action against individual officers based on the findings in this report,” Chatman said. 

Chris Nelson, the communications director at the U, confirmed that three employees will receive disciplinary repercussions.

Officers’ names within the report, besides Deras’ name, were redacted. UUPD stated that the university does not speak towards disciplinary actions that are currently in progress. 

As action may be taken against specific employees, some students think systemic changes are needed in order to make things right.

“Yeah, they can fire Deras, but this problem is bound to repeat itself with a different officer if serious infrastructure and management changes aren’t made. The university has proven itself to be obsolete in taking action after the fact. Students are just asking for the bare minimum preventative efforts,” said Abhiijith Harikumar, a fifth-year student studying information systems. 

Unsafe U, a student led organization which is not affiliated with the U, has been very vocal about the U’s response to McCluskey’s death.

The organization released a statement following the report, which stated, “The continued lack of leadership, accountability, and humanity at the University of Utah, particularly within the UUPD, leading up to these findings is disgusting. It should be clear that disgusting is not equivalent to surprising because, in fact, we are not surprised. This is not the failure of just one particular officer. It is demonstrative of larger institutional and cultural problems that have permeated this department for years.” 

The Protest

Unsafe U hosted the protest and came with several demands, such as:

  • Contact Peace Officer Standards and Training to demand that Deras’ certification be suspended, if not revoked entirely.
  • Contact the Logan Police Department to demand that Miguel Deras be terminated.
  • Contact Rodney Chatman ([email protected]) to demand

    ○ A transparent, internal administrative investigations process be developed to meet CALEA standard 22.3 (Administrative Investigations) and that this administrative investigation process be made easily available to general public;

    ○ The publishing of UUPD departmental policies in a public forum and that all suspected violations of policy will undergo an internal administrative investigation;

    ○ The UUPD immediately begin the process to gain the tier 2, CALEA Advanced Campus Security Accreditation program certification.

“The continuous echoing of meaningless words that do not truly ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff rings hollow to us. It is clear that the University of Utah continues to prioritize their public image over meaningful policy changes and institutional accountability,” Unsafe U said in their statement. 

While Unsafe U is concerned about the lack of action of UUPD, Chatman wants to assure the public that appropriate measures will be taken.

These are not just words. They are values that I expect every officer and staff member in my department to live up to every day. …We will continue to strive to be better, to hold each other accountable and to serve our community with the utmost integrity,” Chatman said. 

Around 15 protesters gathered outside the U’s Department of Public Safety Building, where they spray-painted pieces of paper with the phrase “We don’t trust U.” These papers were taped to cover the front entrance of the building and windows. 

Deputy Police Chief Jason Hinojosa and Chatman watched and spoke to some protesters.  

“If it’s important to the community, it has to be important to us,” Hinojosa said. 

Hinojosa said he expected this response and students have every reason to be angry. He said the UUPD is focused on getting the truth and making progress. 

“New personnel are coming in to completely overhaul and change the processes and the policies, the culture of the campus police … and we very much want this to be a collaboration,” he said. 

This has not been the first protest held for McCluskey since her death. Students have previously gathered outside the John R. Park Building in both Oct. 2018 and Oct. 2019 to demand accountability from the U administration for their negligence in her case and their attempts to dismiss McCluskey’s parent’s lawsuit.

“I’m exhausted, and there really aren’t words for how angry I am. It’s almost been two years since she was taken from us and we are still out here not being heard,” said Brooke Martin, a recently graduated U student and teammate of McCluskey.

Rebecca Hardenbrook, a third-year Ph.D. student in mathematics, addressed the crowd and spoke about the specific demands from Unsafe U. She also expressed her anger and frustration at the police department and the university. 

“We don’t want cops on our campus. We want more money for resources. We want more for counselors,” Hardenbrook said. 

The group then marched to the Park Building, chanting “Dismiss Deras,” and “Abolish UUPD” as they walked. They also chanted “How many times? 20 times,” emphasizing the amount of times McCluskey contacted and reached out to UUPD before she was murdered. 

At the Park Building protesters spoke about their anger and disappointment towards the U administration. 

“These people in this building are not doing a damn thing and we pay them up to $800,000 a year to do their damn job,” Hardenbrook said. “I am mad at them for not coming out in any way, [not] standing up for what’s right,  [not] standing up for Lauren.” 

Other protesters spoke about personal experiences and reiterated the demand to abolish the UUPD. 

A representative from Unsafe U also read a roast they wrote about the U administration at the conception of their organization. 

“I’d also like to mention Ruth Watkins, President at the U,” they said. “Ruth has such a great sense of style. Her hair is so business in the front and casualties hidden in the back.” 

Grace Mason, a health society and policy major and an ACES peer health educator, also highlighted that there are five victim-survivor advocates for a campus of 33,000 students. 

They encouraged others who showed their support online to join the protesters in person. 

“Your legs and your retweets aren’t here,” Mason said. “Please put on a mask, please grab some water, roll out the whip and come through, because we need you, because [the administration doesn’t] care about us.”

 

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This article was updated to reflect that the investigation was conducted the University Department of Public Safety, rather than the UUPD. The article was also updated to reflect a more full list of Unsafe U’s demands from Rodney Chatman.