Ex-Cop Who Shared Explicit Pics of Slain Student Seeks Millions in Compensation

Five ex-officers from University of Utah Police, including the former chief, are claiming at least $10 million for "permanent and irreparable career damage" after they were accused of mishandling the case of slain student Lauren McCluskey.

A copy of the former officers' legal notice against the university, submitted to the state attorney general's office, was first obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune via a public records request. The five include Miguel Deras, who showed explicit photos of McCluskey to male colleagues in the days leading up to her death.

McCluskey, a 21-year-old student at the university, was shot dead on October 22, 2018. Her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland, was suspected of the killing and took his own life hours later.

McCluskey had reported Rowland, 37, to the university police after the couple's break-up in early October, because he had sent her messages threatening to release "compromising images" if she did not pay him. McCluskey had forwarded the images to Deras as evidence.

The legal notice, written by Deras' attorney Jeremy Jones, claims the university hid evidence about the case from the public "to make it easier for the University to scapegoat or blame officers." The notice does not specify what evidence was hidden or how each officer was allegedly blamed.

"The University's apparent objective was to focus public attention on the [five] Claimants, rather than its own institutional failings and wrongdoing in relation to Lauren's case," the notice reads.

Three former university police officers were accused of misconduct or failing to report misconduct, while former chief Dale Brophy and former deputy Rick McLenon were said to have overseen the department's alleged mishandling of McCluskey's reports.

An independent review later found the university police had done little to investigate her fears about Rowland, including failing to verify whether he was on parole and making no attempts to contact him or his parole officer.

In 2004, Rowland was convicted of attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor. He was on the state's sex offender registry in 2018.

The university said it had not been aware that Deras had shown the explicit pictures to colleagues until the publication of a May 2020 article in The Salt Lake Tribune. It then asked the Utah Department of Public Safety to investigate.

The DPS inquiry, released in August 2020, found that Deras had shown the images to at least three other male officers without a work-related reason.

Jones, Deras' attorney, has previously said his client denies any wrongdoing. Deras acknowledged sharing the pictures, Jones said last year, but insisted he had done so for a valid purpose.

Brophy and Deras had both stepped down from their positions in 2019. Brophy retired with a full year's salary of $151,000, as well as a $6,000 send-off party. He was also able to begin collecting a full retirement paid for by the state after 25 years in law enforcement.

After leaving the university police, Deras took a job in northern Utah with the Logan Police Department. He was fired after the release of the DPS investigation.

McLenon resigned from the university police in June 2020 and declined to participate in the DPS investigation.

The two other officers—Mario Sellick and Aaron Nelson—were terminated by the university in 2020 for not reporting to superiors that Deras had shared the photos.

The legal notice alleges that the two officers were terminated for "telling the truth and participating in the interview process." The notice also claims that the university police department updated its employee policy just before the DPS report was released to remove protections for officers.

"The University did not seek or receive consent from any officer to change these policies, did change them to the detriment of officers who relied on the prior policies, and used the changes to damage the officers in question," the notice states.

The two officers also claim they were not given an opportunity to appeal their terminations or present information in their defense. The university said the appeal process was completed and a decision was made not to reinstate the officers.

Asked to comment on the legal notice, the deputy chief of University of Utah Police, Jason Hinojosa, told Newsweek: "We are typically not authorized to comment on pending litigation."

A University of Utah spokesperson declined to comment when approached for comment.

A public information officer for the Utah attorney general's office also declined to comment.

Newsweek has contacted Jones for comment.

University of Utah students 2017
Student protesters pictured in September 2017 on the University of Utah campus. Five former university police officers are claiming $10 million in compensation from the school. George Frey/Getty Images