University of Utah student-athlete Lauren McCluskey was fatally shot outside her dorm in 2018 by a man she had dated. Her murder exposed serious flaws in the school’s responses to intimate partner violence, and continuing revelations have spurred widespread reform.
Here is a timeline of events leading up to her death and the fallout, as compiled by campus police, an independent team who reviewed the university’s handling of her case, and additional reporting by The Salt Lake Tribune.
The weeks before the shooting
Sept. 2, 2018: Lauren McCluskey, 21, met Melvin Shawn Rowland at London Belle, a Salt Lake City bar where he was working as a bouncer, and began dating him. He gave her a false name and age, and didn’t disclose that he was a convicted sex offender on parole. He visited her often at her residence hall and quickly built friendships with other students in the building. Later that month, she went pistol shooting with Rowland and his friends; as a felon, Rowland was not allowed to possess a gun.
Sept. 26: McCluskey called two of her friends; she said Rowland would not let her “hang out with friends.” The friends felt she didn’t sound right and noticed that week that her physical appearance had begun to change. They believed she was being taken advantage of by Rowland.
Sept. 30: Two of McCluskey’s friends told staff at University of Utah dorms that they were scared about Rowland’s control over her, about how he talked about guns and stayed often in her room. That report, and others to housing officials in days that followed, were not passed to campus police or a campus behavioral team who may have intervened. Housing officials were aware that people who knew McCluskey were specifically concerned that she could be hurt, but their focus remained on whether a housing policy violation had occurred, according to conversations described in the later independent review.
Oct. 9: McCluskey learned Rowland’s real identity — including that he had lied about his age, 37, and not disclosed that he was a registered sex offender — in the first days of October, and briefly went home to Pullman, Wash. On Oct. 9, she invited Rowland to her dorm room, confronted him with the information and broke off their relationship. He admitted his sex-offender status, but denied the age difference. McCluskey allowed him to spend the night in her room and borrow her car the next day to run errands. She began receiving text messages, purportedly from Rowland’s friends; some urged her to kill herself.
Oct. 10: Jill McCluskey, McCluskey’s mother, contacted campus dispatch “very upset and worried” to request a campus security escort to help Lauren retrieve her vehicle from Rowland. The dispatcher contacted Lauren McCluskey. She at first declined assistance, saying Rowland was going to drop the vehicle at her apartment and she felt comfortable with him doing that. The dispatcher told her that she would have security officers near the building just in case. At 5 p.m., Lauren McCluskey called back, saying the car was dropped off at the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot and she needed a ride to pick it up — which a security escort provided.
The review team noted that university police did not learn — until after Lauren McCluskey’s death — that she and her mother had felt that Lauren was in danger, because the security escort was not entered into the same record management system that campus police use. The review team said the university should ensure security calls are recorded into a single system coordinated with police, which the school now does.
Oct. 12: Lauren McCluskey contacted university police for the first time, reporting she had received suspicious messages she believed were from Rowland’s friends. The texts said Rowland was dead and that it was her fault. But she found he had recently posted on social media, disproving the claim. Such posts were a violation of Rowland’s parole terms, which prohibited him from using social media. Lauren told the officer she did not feel in danger or threatened by the texts, but felt his friends were trying to lure her out of her dorm.
Oct. 13: At 9:22 a.m., McCluskey again contacted university police, reporting she had received more messages that she believed were from Rowland or his friends. The messages demanded money in exchange for not posting compromising photos of her and her with Rowland online. McCluskey said she sent $1,000 to an account as demanded, in hope of keeping the photos private. Over the next few days, she spoke to Officer Miguel Deras by phone, then in person, then by texts, and eventually called the Salt Lake City police department, which referred her back to campus.
Chief Dale Brophy said police took the report, pulled Rowland’s criminal history — but did not learn he was on parole — and assigned a detective to follow up later on possible charges of sexual extortion. The review team found: “There was never an attempt by any of the officers involved to check [Rowland’s] ‘offender status.’ Further, there were no policies or procedures that required such checks.”
On an unknown date between Oct. 14 and Oct. 22: Showing another campus officer his phone, Officer Deras displayed at least one of the intimate images McCluskey had shared with him for the investigation. (The U. has said it was unaware of the display until The Tribune inquired about it in 2019. Another officer told The Tribune that Deras bragged about being able to look at the image whenever he wanted. New investigations into the incident are underway.)
Oct. 16: A parole agent spoke with Rowland — but did not know about McCluskey’s allegations because university police had not communicated with Adult Probation and Parole. Rowland’s use of social media violated his probation, and involvement in a new crime also would have been a violation and could have sent him back to jail.
Oct. 16-19: Kayla Dallof, the campus detective assigned to McCluskey’s case, worked on other investigations.
Oct. 19: At 4:48 p.m., a frustrated McCluskey called the Salt Lake City police department to ask for more help. “She is very concerned about her case because she has not heard back as to its disposition,” the independent review reported. Salt Lake City’s dispatch tells her to call campus police, which she does. A detective returns her call and says she will not be back at work until Oct. 23 — which will turn out to be the day after McCluskey’s slaying. The detective tells McCluskey to call campus dispatch in the meantime if she gets another message that appears to be an attempt to lure her somewhere.
Oct. 19-22: Security video shows Rowland at various campus locations, apparently seeking McCluskey. Over the weekend, McCluskey sends three screenshots to campus police, “showing Rowland’s criminal history and his offender details.”
The day of the shooting
Oct. 22, 10:39 a.m.: McCluskey talked to Officer Deras after she had received another text from a spoofed number, with the message claiming to be from Deputy Chief Rick McLenon, asking her to go to the police station. The “only logical conclusion” was that Rowland sent it with the intent of getting McCluskey to leave her dorm, one of the reviewers said. But Deras never reported McCluskey’s concerns to any of his superiors at the department.
Oct. 22, 3 to 6 p.m.: Rowland waited for McCluskey with some of her friends at the dorms.
Oct. 22, 8:20 p.m.: Rowland confronted McCluskey in the parking lot outside her residence hall. She was returning from a night class and on the phone with her mother when she screamed, “No, no, no.” Rowland grabbed her, and she dropped her cellphone and belongings. He then dragged her to a different spot in the lot, forcing her into the back seat of a car he had driven to campus. Once she was in the car, Rowland shot McCluskey multiple times.
Oct. 22, 8:23 p.m.: Matt McCluskey, McCluskey’s father, called campus police dispatch. He relayed what Jill McCluskey heard on the phone and asked officers to respond.
Oct. 22, 8:32 p.m.: Police went to the parking lot and found McCluskey’s belongings. More police were called. A search began of her dorm room, the parking lot and the surrounding area.
Oct. 22, 8:38 p.m.: Rowland called a woman he met on a dating site and asked her to pick him up. They went to dinner at a restaurant, drove by the state Capitol and went to her home downtown, where he took a shower. She then dropped him off at a coffee shop. Later that night, she saw news reports about the shooting, recognized photos of Rowland and called police.
Oct. 22: 9:55 p.m.: While searching the parking lot, police found McCluskey’s body in the back seat of a car.
Oct. 22, 9:56 p.m.: A secure-in-place alert was sent campuswide, telling the university community that there had been a shooting.
Oct. 22, 10:09 p.m.: An alert was sent with suspect information. Updates were sent about every 30 minutes.
Oct. 22, 11:46 p.m.: An alert lifting the secure-in-place order was sent after university police determined Rowland had left campus.
Oct. 23, 12:01 a.m.: An alert was sent identifying the suspect as Melvin Rowland.
Oct. 23, 12:46 a.m.: Salt Lake City police found Rowland and followed him on foot. He entered Trinity AME Church, at 239 E. Martin Luther King Blvd. (600 South). As police entered the church, Rowland fatally shot himself.
Oct. 23, 1:47 a.m.: An alert was sent saying Rowland had been located and was no longer a threat.
The months after the shooting
Later on Oct. 23: University Police Chief Dale Brophy told reporters that his officers could not find Rowland in the days before the shooting, although the review team said no one had been looking for him. He incorrectly said Rowland had walked away from a halfway house (a statement the university later corrected).
Oct. 24: The Department of Corrections revealed that a parole agent had spoken to Rowland on Oct. 16 — unaware that four days earlier McCluskey had begun calling university police to accuse him of harassing her.
The campus community came together for a vigil to honor McCluskey.
Oct. 25: In an emotional press conference, Brophy revealed for the first time that Rowland had extorted McCluskey on Oct. 13, threatening to release compromising photos if she didn’t pay $1,000. Brophy also revealed that Rowland stalked McCluskey on campus for at least three days before killing her and spent three hours before the shooting hanging out with her friends in her residence hall. Brophy said, too, that the man who had loaned Rowland the gun contacted police after seeing media reports about the slaying.
University of Utah President Ruth Watkins said she would ask an outside investigator to review university police protocols, but said the review would not examine the decisions of individual officers.
Gov. Gary Herbert, in his monthly news conference, announced he had ordered an investigation, as well, of the Utah Department of Corrections and the Board of Pardons and Parole to look into possible mistakes there that may have contributed to McCluskey’s death.
The state’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) announced it was investigating “unlicensed activity” by Diamond Security Group, a company that hired Rowland — under the alias Shawn Fields — as a bouncer at Salt Lake City restaurants. It had a security contract with London Belle, where Rowland met McCluskey. Black Diamond Security Group said that it had ended its relationship with Rowland about a month earlier. Within a few hours, DOPL issued a citation and a cease-and-desist order against Black Diamond, saying the company was not licensed to provide security in the state. The state said the company never did a background check on Rowland before hiring him.
More of Rowland’s violent past was also uncovered. That includes an attempted sexual assault of a teen girl in 2004, a 2012 parole hearing in which he admitted to raping the teen and two other women, and a 2016 admission that he had threatened that “if an agent were to come conduct a field visit, he might become violent.”
Oct. 26: University of Utah trustees talked in a hastily arranged closed-door meeting about “the competence” of university police and administrators in the wake of McCluskey’s death.
Oct. 27: Two women who had briefly dated Rowland earlier this year described to The Salt Lake Tribune his pattern of lies and manipulation — including falsehoods about his age and not disclosing his criminal record.
Oct. 29: Released police records revealed Rowland was suspected — but never charged — with burglarizing two women he dated in 2015.
Nov. 2: Watkins changed course, announcing that the independent review she described in a Oct. 25 news conference would look at “actions taken by individual officers” in the week before McCluskey was killed. The team included two former commissioners of the Utah Department of Public Safety: John T. Nielsen, who served in that post from 1985 through 1988 and also is an attorney; and Keith Squires, who retired as commissioner in August. Former University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Chief Sue Riseling was selected as the third member of the team. She had since become the executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
Nov. 13: Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, wrote in a tweet that “the person who lent Lauren’s killer the gun needs to be prosecuted.”
Dec. 19: The independent review team released its report; the review of the Utah Department of Corrections and the Board of Pardons and Parole also was released.
Watkins said the report about university police “does not offer any reason to believe” that McCluskey’s slaying could have been prevented. “Instead, the report offers weaknesses, identifies issues and provides us with a road map for strengthening security on our campus,” she said. But Nielsen listed multiple significant missed opportunities, including the reports to housing officials by McCluskey’s friends and the days when the detective assigned to McCluskey’s concerns was off and the case was not assigned to another officer during that time.
Among its recommendations, the review said the campus Department of Public Safety is understaffed; that it needs to hire a victim advocate; that it needs to develop a coordinated working relationship with existing victim advocates elsewhere on campus; that it needs to train all of its officers about interpersonal violence issues; and it needs to adopt a lethality assessment already used by many other Utah police departments in interpersonal violence cases.
Dec. 20: McCluskey’s parents spoke out, questioning Watkins’ assertion that their daughter’s death could not have been prevented. They also called for the police officers involved in her case to be disciplined.
2019: A new law, a lawsuit, resignations and protest
Jan. 25, 2019: McCluskey’s parents, frustrated by the lack of action, went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to talk about their daughter. They again call for discipline and, for the first time, they say they are considering a lawsuit.
Feb. 7: A Utah lawmaker drafted a bill that was prompted by McCluskey’s murder. She called for Utah’s public colleges to develop detailed response plans for cases of sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence — with an emphasis on training officers how to recognize warning signs.
Feb. 12: On what would have been McCluskey’s 22nd birthday, Watkins announced that the school had made significant changes to ensure student safety. The U. increased training for officers to recognize warning signs of domestic and dating violence. And it updated policies, created new task forces and shared information across campus, including sending safety reports from housing staff to police.
She repeated, though, that no campus officers would be disciplined in the case. “I do not believe it serves the ultimate mission of improving campus safety to fire anyone who acted in good faith,” the president said.
Feb. 20: A second bill to come in response to McCluskey’s death stalled in committee. The legislation would open the way for lawsuits against individuals whose borrowed firearms are used in a felony. It did not pass in the 2019 legislative session or when it was brought up again in 2020. But the sponsor, Rep. Andrew Stoddard, has pledged to continue working on it.
Feb. 25: The Utah Department of Corrections released the parole log for Rowland. It showed that he had a few violations — using a dating app, testing positive for marijuana and missing some counseling appointments — but he mostly got high marks.
March 7: Detective Dallof, who was assigned to investigate McCluskey’s concerns, left the university’s police department. Through public records requests, The Tribune later learned that she was fired after making similar mistakes on another female student’s case.
A 17-year-old girl had reported being threatened by a male student at the U. He had trapped her in his room, she said, and then left her a voicemail saying he was going to kill her after she was able to get out. Dallof left work for the weekend without taking any action.
She now works for Weber County Sheriff’s Office.
March 13: Federal charges were filed against Nathan Daniel Vogel, the man who loaned his gun to Rowland. Vogel had a friend buy the gun for him in September 2018 because he didn’t think he could get one after being generally discharged from the Army — a step below an honorable discharge.
He was charged with unlawfully purchasing the weapon. To charge Vogel under state law in connection with the loan, prosecutors would have to show he knowingly gave the gun to aid in the crime or knew Rowland couldn’t own a gun because of his criminal background. Officers have said neither apply.
June 5: The University of Utah’s police department held an awards ceremony honoring employees for how they responded to McCluskey’s concerns before her slaying and media questions after her death. They celebrated a dispatcher and two administrators — despite the blistering independent review that found several staffers mishandled her case.
McCluskey’s parents said the honors seemed disrespectful and out of touch. Matt McCluskey suggested the ceremony “borders on obscene.” The U. later apologized for including McCluskey’s name in the program.
June 10: NBC’s Dateline ran a report on McCluskey’s murder and the U.‘s shortcomings.
June 27: McCluskey’s parents filed a $56 million lawsuit against the U. They allege that campus police could have prevented their daughter’s killing and that the school’s president was irresponsible in insisting otherwise.
Jill and Matt McCluskey said it was “a last resort.” They wanted an apology, but said they never got one. They asked the school to fire the officers involved, but that didn’t happen. They tried working with President Watkins to “remedy the situation,” they said, but said she wouldn’t respond to their emails.
The lawsuit was filed against Officer Deras, Detective Dallof, the university and the state, which funds the public school. It also named then-campus police Chief Dale Brophy and officials in the housing department. It called Lauren’s death “tragic, avoidable and untimely” and accused the university of refusing to respond — making it liable. It said the student, her family and friends all reached out more than 20 times to report concerns. The biggest thrust of the complaint is that the U. failed in its obligations to follow Title IX, the federal law that requires schools to swiftly investigate reports of sexual violence and provide services to individuals who report discrimination or violence.
That same day, the U. released reports to The Tribune showing it had spent nearly $60,000 for public relations advice after McCluskey was killed.
July 1: Officer Deras, who was also supposed to handle McCluskey’s case, was disciplined for making the same mistakes again on another woman’s case. He was assigned to respond to a call reporting a domestic violence incident in married housing on campus in February.
Deras went to talk to the woman and provide her information about how to report assault by a partner. When he arrived, the suspect was there, too. Deras let that man stay as he interviewed the concerned woman. Additionally, he did not call for backup, which the police department requires for cases involving fights or abuse between partners when both parties are present. He also did not check if the man was on parole even after the man “attempted to call his parole agent in [his] presence,” his discipline letter stated.
Deras accepted the warning without appeal, and it was placed in his file.
July 16: Dale Brophy, the police chief at the U., announced he would retire amid the turmoil of McCluskey’s case, effective Oct. 15. “This move will open a new chapter for me and provide the department an opportunity to continue forward under new leadership,” he wrote in the email sent to his staff.
Brophy, who started at the U. as deputy chief in 2013 and took over as chief two years later, received a severance that included a year of pay — at his salary of $151,000 — and benefits. Additionally, Brophy qualified for his retirement to be paid for by the state because of his 25 years in law enforcement.
The school threw him a retirement party that cost $6,000, according to public records.
Aug. 6: The U. began requiring professors to include a statement in their course syllabuses that lists the phone number for campus police and directs students to call there with concerns.
Aug. 15: The U. announced more changes in response to McCluskey’s death. A $1 million investment went to improving building alarms, having police patrol outside of night classes and creating a new transportation system.
Aug. 26: President Ruth Watkins took questions from faculty and students for the first time publicly since McCluskey was killed. It had been nearly a year since her death at this point. She faced pushback, though, for declining to speak about officer discipline in the case. “Of course, this is not at all an appropriate forum for me to talk about individual personnel cases and some of the nuances of what was different between case A and case B,” she said.
Sept. 17: Officer Deras resigned from the U.‘s police department. He now works as an officer at the Logan police department in northern Utah.
Sept. 21: The U. filed its first response to the lawsuit filed by McCluskey’s parents. In it, the school suggested that — “no matter how heartbreaking” — its officers had no obligation to protect McCluskey from her attacker.
The school’s attorneys argued that her killer wasn’t a U. employee or student and had no connection to the university, so it is not responsible for his actions and had no way to control him. And, they add, he was often on campus only because McCluskey had, at times, willingly invited him to her dorm room. “[Liability for this] would require that schools be guardians of every student’s safety from any act of relationship violence, no matter where the act arises or who perpetrates it,” the university’s filing concluded.
The filing immediately touched off criticism of the U., with some accusing the school of victim-blaming. The Utah attorney general’s office, which is representing the U. in the ongoing case, released a response, defending its arguments.
Sept. 26: In a surprising public statement, student leaders at the university condemned the administration — criticizing how it handled fears reported by McCluskey, denied responsibility after her murder and created an atmosphere in which students worry campus police won’t protect them. It’s the first time the U.‘s student government has put forth such a formal critique.
A university administrator responded shortly after, saying it would take time to rebuild trust.
Oct. 21: Tensions continued to rise. Nearly 100 students — mainly women — walked out of class and staged a protest to talk about their concerns with the U.‘s police department. It came one day before the first anniversary of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey’s murder. The group somberly stood outside the school’s administration building and carried posters that asked, “Where were you when Lauren needed U?”
President Watkins responded by saying that McCluskey’s murder “revealed problems” on campus. It was one of her strongest statements on the case to date.
Nov. 3: The Tribune released an investigative report detailing the culture of the University of Utah’s police department and how it treated female victims and officers for years before McCluskey’s killing. It was buttressed by interviews with victims, nearly a dozen former employees and by discipline reports and other documents obtained through public record requests.
Officers were failing to contact victims promptly, discipline records show, with one officer taking 16 days to call a woman reporting a crime and another completely ignoring a domestic violence report. Former staff members say they were instructed to downplay the number of domestic violence cases, too, by not creating a record for some calls or altering dispatch log entries for others. Additionally, female students said their reports of rape, sexual assault and harassment were not taken seriously. “They didn’t believe women,” one former officer said. “They put them at risk.”
The Tribune also ran a story detailing the discipline histories of the officers hired by former Chief Dale Brophy to fill the department.
Nov. 23: The U. received a $300,000 federal grant to improve how it responds to cases of stalking and dating and domestic violence on campus
Nov. 25: Powerhouse attorney Christine Durham — a former Utah Supreme Court chief justice — joined the legal team representing McCluskey’s parents.
Dec. 19: After weeks of interviews and narrowing down candidates, the university hired Marlon Lynch to fill its newly created chief safety officer position. The Cabinet-level job oversees all aspects of security, including emergency preparedness, cyberattacks, laboratory hazards and, perhaps most importantly, campus policing. He took office in February 2020.
2020: More scrutiny with a new independent investigation
Jan 9, 2020: Shortly after naming its chief safety officer, the U. announced it would hire Rodney Chatman to replace Brophy and oversee the police department. He started on Feb. 17.
Feb. 4: Another bill spurred by McCluskey’s case was drafted by the Utah Senate. It aimed to improve how Utah universities respond to sexual assault and strengthen coordination between on-campus and off-campus law enforcement. It was also signed into law.
Feb. 12: The University of Utah’s trustees approved plans to build a new $13 million facility for its campus police department. As part of the project, the U. will demolish the old headquarters, which were used by the Army during World War II, and replace it with parking. It will construct the new building nearby along 500 South in a lot just east of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The facility will be slightly more expensive than other campus construction because of the specific needs of the department, including secure spaces for a dispatch call center and storage for evidence. It will also include a private room for interviews and victim advocacy work, as well as a training space for officers and locked parking.
May 17: The Tribune reported that Officer Deras showed off explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey to his co-worker before she was killed. The university confirmed that display occurred, making that statement in response to a continued push by The Tribune to obtain public records about how the case was handled, but it said that it didn’t know about the inappropriate behavior and abuse of evidence until after Deras left the department in September 2019.
According to two fellow officers, Deras showed off at least one of the images to a male co-worker; one officer said Deras bragged about getting to look at them whenever he wanted.
That report kicked off a wave of responses. The Logan police department where Deras currently works pledged to do an investigation. The U. has also asked the Utah Department of Public Safety to do a more thorough review of the situation after saying its internal process was not sufficient. Those have not yet been completed.
Deras hired attorneys, who denied the display occurred.
Meanwhile, several lawmakers also proposed bills to address officers handling sensitive information — and setting up rules to punish those who abuse it. The school’s chief safety officer later responded by saying he’s restructured how police officers on campus deal with evidence. Any pictures that an officer receives on a cellphone as evidence must be entered “unaltered” into the department’s evidence database by the end of the individual’s shift. And then they need to be deleted off of the personal device.
June 6: Students at the U. again protested against the campus police department, specifically citing McCluskey’s case. They called for the force there to be defunded in light of nationwide rallies against police and discrimination of people of color.
June 8: McCluskey’s parents filed a second lawsuit against the U., this time in state court. It alleged that the school denied their daughter equal protection under Utah’s Constitution.
June 10: The deputy police chief at the University of Utah, Rick McLenon, resigned. His departure came less than a month after he was put on leave during the investigation into how Officer Deras handled the sensitive photos of McCluskey.
June 29: The University of Utah announced it will overhaul its troubled police department — requiring more public reporting of misconduct, hiring a new command staff to oversee officers and devoting a division to victim services with a special focus on sexual violence. The move has been the most far-reaching of the university’s responses to McCluskey’s death.
There will be five main divisions: police, community services (focused on victims), emergency management, security for main campus and security for the university’s hospital.
The change also came after a new campus climate survey was released by the U. It showed that students’ trust in officers was down significantly. When the survey was previously conducted in spring 2018, before McCluskey’s murder, a majority of students said they felt the university did enough to protect students. With the same question asked this year, less than half did.