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Murdered student’s family reaches multi-million dollar settlement with University of Utah

Lauren McCluskey
Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah
Lauren McCluskey

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (KUTV/CBS) — On the two year anniversary of Lauren McCluskey's death, University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins and Lauren's parents announced a settlement agreement in the McCluskey's lawsuit against the U.

The terms of the settlement are as follows, according to court documents:

Through its risk management agency and its insurance provider, the University of Utah will pay the McCluskeys $10.5 million by March 31, 2021.
The University of Utah will make a $3 million donation to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation no later than March 31, 2021. No tuition or state-appropriated funds will be used in making this donation, the U stated.
The University of Utah pledged to build an indoor track for the Track and Field team, which Lauren was apart of before she died.
The University of Utah’s Center for Violence Prevention will be renamed as the McCluskey Center for Violence and Prevention.

"We failed Lauren and her family. We honor Lauren and her legacy will be improved campus safety for all students," Watkins said, reading a prepared statement from the university.

All of the money from the settlement will go to support the Lauren McCluskey Foundation to help improve campus safety, Jill McCluskey announced Thursday.

Jill and Matt McCluskey filed a second lawsuit against the school in June, nearly two years after their daughter was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend on the University of Utah campus in October 2018.

The complaint states in the weeks leading up to her murder, Lauren was "being sexually and physically abused, stalked, and threatened by her eventual killer" and that the police "dismissed and avoided her requests for help."

Lauren and her friends told university officials and police about the abusive behavior and their fears that it could escalate into greater violence. Instead of intervening and protecting Lauren from her killer, the university officials and police ignored, dismissed, and avoided her requests for help, the complaint states.

The lawsuit also references former University of Utah campus police officer Miguel Deras, who was assigned to Lauren's extortion case. He's accused of showing at least one other officer--not involved in the case--"highly sensitive, personal and private pictures for voyeuristic purposes," a press release previously distributed from the McCluskey's legal team states. The photos were used by Lauren's ex-boyfriend and eventual murderer Melvin Rowland to blackmail her. To keep the photos from going public, Lauren reportedly paid Rowland $1,000.

According to a report by the Utah Department of Public Safety released in August, Deras showed at least three of his male co-workers the photos in a setting not related to work. “Sometime after the briefing" in October 2018 "Officer Deras showed the images to a group of officers,” the report stated.

An employee recalled Deras commented on the photos, saying he could "look at them whenever he wants." That employee also admitted to making crude remarks about the images, which McCluskey had given to Deras as part of her case. Another person said the other officers chimed in, calling Deras “lucky” to get to work on the case and McCluskey a “cute girl.”

Investigators found no evidence of file sharing. Deras did not download or transfer intimate photos of McCluskey, according to the report. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill announced last week that no charges would be filed against Deras.

During the press conference, Watkins made the following statement:

The University of Utah has worked collaboratively with the McCluskey family to reach a settlement in the death of their daughter, Lauren. 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.

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. We are engaged in making meaningful and lasting changes in our approach to campus safety, particularly in how we respond to and assist crime victims and through focusing on research-based approaches to violence prevention. We believe these changes will build a culture of safety that prioritizes needs of crime victims and provides them with the full response and support they need, while recognizing this is an ongoing process that takes time, resources and our complete commitment.

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