SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The state will open a new investigation into allegations that a University of Utah police officer showed off photos in an extortion case reported by a woman who was later killed, a case that has roiled the institution.
Officer Miguel Deras on Tuesday denied the allegations unearthed by the Salt Lake Tribune, which quoted unnamed officers saying he had “bragged” about having the explicit images of track athlete Lauren McCluskey before her 2018 shooting death.
“He never shared the photos in question, and certainly not in the manner described,” his attorney Jeremy Jones said in a statement. Deras received the photos on his department email as part of McCluskey’s extortion report, and accessed them on his personal phone because officers did not have department phones at the time, Jones said. He brought up the photos during a routine briefing to only to ask how they should be handled and stored.
That account is similar to the findings of an internal probe by the campus police department, but its new Chief Rodney Chatman said he’s now concerned about thoroughness of that investigation. The officers who conducted it have been placed on administrative leave as the Utah Department of Public Safety completes a new review.
“It is inexcusable for a police officer to inappropriately share or discuss photos or information provided by a victim seeking justice,” said Chatman, who was hired after other missteps in the McCluskey case sparked a backlash.
He pledged to release the results of the new probe publicly, in an effort to help the department “regain credibility” since McCluskey’s death.
The 21-year-old had contacted university police more than 20 times before her death to report harassment by a man she had dated, Melvin Shawn Rowland. Her family says in a lawsuit that those reports were not taken seriously by campus police, who should have quickly discovered he was a registered sex offender on parole who had been lying to her about his name, age and history. Instead, he fatally shot her with a borrowed gun on campus and later killed himself.
The university has acknowledged mistakes and made campus-safety changes, but maintained the 21-year-old’s death could not have been prevented.