The U Announces Lawsuit Settlement with Lauren McCluskey’s Parents

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Kiffer Creveling

Lauren’s parents, Jill and Matthew McCluskey, 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 Ivana Martinez and Natalie Colby

 

On Oct. 22, 2020, the two-year anniversary death of Lauren McCluskey – the 21-year old student-athlete who looked towards the university for help and received none – the University of Utah announced a settlement with Lauren’s McCluskey family. 

Matthew and Jill McCluskey announced their lawsuit against the University of Utah in the wake of their daughter Lauren’s murder back in June 2019.  

Lauren McCluskey was shot to death on Oct. 22 by her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland, in the backseat of a car that had been parked near her dorm on campus. Rowland took his own life later that night during the course of a police pursuit.

In 2019, the McCluskey family filed a $56 million civil rights lawsuit against the U following the on-campus murder of their daughter Lauren McCluskey. They say the U failed to protect their daughter and “never took responsibility for their failures” after her death.

In Sept. 2019, the U tried to dismiss the lawsuit, with the Salt Lake Tribune reporting the U said no matter sad the case was, the officers had no obligation to protect the 21-year old. 

In an earlier article by the Daily Utah Chronicle, detailing Lauren and her mother repeatedly expressed fears over Lauren’s safety, who had contacted the University  “more than 20 times” between Oct. 9 and Oct. 22, according to a press release about the lawsuit in 2019.

In a statement released by the U on Thursday morning, it was announced that the state of Utah, through its risk management agency and its insurance provider, would pay McCluskey’s $10.5 million by March 31, 2021. 

“The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation. As a result, we failed Lauren and her family. If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide their responses, the university believes they would have been better equipped to protect Lauren,” the statement read.

Despite the U reaching a settlement with the McCluskey family, students are still protesting Miguel Deras, a police officer who was involved in Lauren McCluskey’s case, who downloaded and shared explicit photos of the track athlete. 

A student-run organization, unaffiliated with the university, Unsafe.U, was conceived because of Lauren McCluskey’s death and their dissatisfaction with the U’s handling of it. They have been protesting the U’s action in the lawsuit since Fall 2019.  

“Our calls, protests, meeting, and demands have been heard with this win. This fight for accountability, transparency, and resources is not over, but this is a massive step in our collective healing and for Lauren receiving justice,” Unsafe.U said in an Instagram post.

The U also held a press conference at 10 a.m. on Oct. 22. Speakers included President Ruth V. Watkins, Dr. Jill McCluskey, Dr. Matt McCluskey and Ayanna Amaechi the U student body vice president. 

“We share with the McCluskeys an interest in working to improve safety for all students, not only on our campus but on campuses across the country. With our commitment to learning from our mistakes, we honor Lauren and ensure her legacy will be improved campus safety for all students,” Watkins said in the press conference. 

In the settlement, the U will use unrestricted gifts and the president’s discretionary fund to make a charitable donation of $3 million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation by March 31, 2021.

Jill McCluskey said on Twitter, “This settlement not only addresses how Lauren died, but it honors how she lived. @Utah_trackfield and @utahathletics were an important part of her life. She will always have a presence on campus.” 

The U also renamed the new Center for Violence Prevention as the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention. This center was launched on Sept. 21.

“The center seeks to bridge the gap between research and practice by bringing together the expertise of researchers, prevention educators, and students to execute a comprehensive research agenda focused on the prevention of relationship and sexual violence and share knowledge it develops across the U.S.,” the U said in a press release. 

On the second anniversary of Lauren McCluskey’s death, there are several vigils being held both on campus and downtown to celebrate and remember her life. There will be one held at downtown at the District Attorney’s office at 6 p.m. tonight and another will held at the track on campus at 1 p.m. 

 

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