The state of Utah has agreed to pay more than $10 million to the family of Lauren McCluskey, a University of Utah student from Pullman, Washington, whose nude photographs were shared by a campus police officer from whom she had sought help before she was murdered in 2018, according to a settlement and court documents.
The university “acknowledges that the murder of Lauren McCluskey was a brutal, senseless and preventable tragedy,” the agreement said.
Under the agreement, which was reached Wednesday, McCluskey’s parents, Matthew and Jill McCluskey, would receive $10.5 million from the state. Jim McConkie, a lawyer for the family, said Thursday that the McCluskeys had “publicly committed” to putting all of the money, after fees and costs, into the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which seeks to improve campus safety, especially for women.
The settlement also says that the foundation would get $3 million from the university.
The agreement would become final once approved by Utah’s governor and state Legislature, according to the settlement. The legislative session begins in January.
A spokeswoman for the governor, Gary Herbert, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The Utah attorney general represented the university, which said it would use gifts and discretionary funds to pay its portion of the settlement as a charitable donation to the foundation, the university said in a statement Thursday.
Lauren McCluskey was a senior at the university when she was killed by a man she had dated for just a few weeks. The man, Melvin Rowland, shot McCluskey seven times Oct. 22, 2018, after kidnapping her. He later took his own life.
McCluskey’s parents contended in a lawsuit against the university filed in state court this year that McCluskey, 21, had turned over nude photographs to Miguel Deras, who was a campus police officer, telling him that Rowland had threatened to release the images unless she paid him $1,000.
The photographs were shared with officers who were not involved in the matter just weeks before she was murdered, according to the lawsuit.
McCluskey’s parents further contended that the university and the campus police failed to take action when she repeatedly reached out to authorities for help. A lawyer for Deras told KSL NewsRadio in May that the allegations were “absolutely untrue.”
A report commissioned by the university identified dozens of ways that it could have better responded to the case.
The university has also pledged to seek funds for an indoor track facility to be named in honor of McCluskey, who was a standout athlete, and it has agreed to rename the Center for Violence Prevention as the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention, it said.
“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,” Ruth Watkins, the president of the university, said in the statement.
“As a result, we failed Lauren and her family,” Watkins said.
In addition to the wrongful death and negligence lawsuit, a federal suit filed in June 2019 by the McCluskey family sought a $56 million judgment against the university, some of its employees and the state. Papers will be filed to dismiss the lawsuits after the settlement funds are paid at the end of March, McConkie and the university said.
Watkins said Thursday that with more complete training and protocols, the campus employees “would have been better equipped to protect Lauren.”