The University of Utah announced on Thursday it has agreed to pay a $13.5 million settlement to the parents of Lauren McCluskey, a student and track star who was abducted outside of her residence hall and found murdered in her car a short time later. The announcement came on the second anniversary of her death.
‘We failed Lauren’
In the settlement, the University said for the very first time that McCluskey’s death could have been prevented. University of Utah president Ruth Watkins previously said that she didn’t believe there was anything that could have been done to prevent McCluskey’s murder, despite an independent review that revealed a number of key failures by police. McCluskey’s parents filed two lawsuits against the university, alleging that their daughter’s murder could have been prevented.
During the settlement announcement, via the Salt Lake Tribune, Watkins said the university “acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not acknowledge Lauren’s case as it should have. ... We failed Lauren.”
Serious missteps by police
In the weeks leading up to her October 2018 murder, McCluskey had contacted campus housing, campus police and Salt Lake City police numerous times to report that her ex-boyfriend, 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, was harassing her and threatening to release intimate photos of her. McCluskey and Rowland had dated for about a month until she discovered that he had lied to her about his name and age, and was also a convicted sex offender who had spent a decade in prison and was out on parole.
McCluskey cut off all contact with him and blocked his number, but he wouldn’t leave her alone. She continued to contact the authorities but didn’t feel like they were taking her seriously. McCluskey was seen having an argument with Rowland outside her residence hall shortly before she was abducted. Rowland killed himself hours after her body was found, shooting himself with the same gun used to kill McCluskey.
An independent review by the Utah Department of Public Safety revealed that campus police didn’t know how to look up criminal background or parole information. University police detective Miguel Deras was assigned to her case but ignored her concerns, and the review revealed that Deras had shown McCluskey’s intimate pictures to several colleagues. Deras was fired in August for those actions.
Settlement will honor Lauren’s memory
McCluskey’s parents will receive $10.5 million of the settlement, and the remaining $3 million will be paid to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the security on campuses across the country. McCluskey’s father, Matt, said at the news conference that all of the settlement money will be going to the foundation.
In addition to the settlement money, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the university will build a new indoor track that will bear McCluskey’s name. The university’s new Center for Violence Prevention, which was partially established because of her death, will also be named after McCluskey.
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