A Utah parole agent told Lauren McCluskey’s killer to ‘get his crap together,’ but mostly gave him high marks

(Courtesy photo) Pictured is Melvin Rowland in a photo he shared with a woman he'd been on dates with.

Draper • In the months before he murdered Lauren McCluskey, Melvin S. Rowland gave the appearance of a convict who wanted to succeed at parole.

Rowland had switched jobs and phone numbers a few times and kept his parole agent informed of the changes. The 37-year-old used a dating app in May, tested positive for marijuana in August and missed some counseling appointments, but the agent opted to handle those violations of his parole conditions with warnings.

“I came down on him,” Rowland’s parole agent wrote on Aug. 15, about 10 weeks before McCluskey’s murder, “and told him to get his crap together due to missing treatment and hanging out with people that are smoking marijuana.”

The Utah Department of Corrections last week released the log detailing Rowland’s third and final turn on parole, which began April 17.

Dan Blanchard, the director of Adult Probation and Parole, said Thursday during an interview at his agency’s headquarters that the violations were considered appropriate to handle with warnings and Rowland appeared to be successfully transitioning to life outside of prison. Blanchard said, too, that Rowland’s parole agent, who was informing his or her supervisor along the way, properly monitored the convict — and saw no signs of what was to come.

“Were we manipulated?” Blanchard said. “Well, we didn’t know what wasn’t available to us.”

The log corroborates the department’s earlier statements that parole agents had no knowledge Rowland was suspected by University of Utah police of extorting McCluskey, who first contacted that department on Oct. 12 to report concerns about Rowland a few days after she ended their brief relationship. Officers there never passed the information on and did not discover Rowland was on parole until after he had murdered McCluskey.

In fact, the log shows the first time campus police contacted Adult Probation and Parole was about 40 minutes after Rowland shot and killed McCluskey, a 21-year-old track star, on Oct. 22 outside her University of Utah dorm. An officer from campus police explained Rowland was a homicide suspect and wanted help in finding him.

“We did not know that he was on parole until then,” said U. Deputy Police Chief Rick McLenon. “This officer was one of the first to discover it that night. … [He] was doing research and trying to gather intelligence about the suspect and found out.”

Rowland’s parole agent, whose name was redacted from the log, and other agents from Adult Probation and Parole responded to the murder scene at the university. They supplied investigators with Rowland’s contact information and names of his associates. Rowland later died by suicide at a church near 200 E. 600 South in Salt Lake City as police were closing in.

The Salt Lake Tribune shared a copy of the parole records, which it obtained through a public records request, with McCluskey’s mother. In an email Thursday, Jill McCluskey said she is frustrated that the log shows that a U. police officer called Adult Probation and Parole minutes after her daughter was killed.

“We find this surprising since the police have claimed they did not suspect Rowland was on parole when Lauren was filing complaints about him,” Jill McCluskey wrote. Rowland had lied to Lauren McCluskey about his age and hidden his criminal history, and she ended their monthlong relationship after she discovered that.

Campus police officers handling her extortion complaint had looked at Rowland’s criminal history, including his record as a sex offender, but never discovered his parole status.

McCluskey had told officers that Rowland was on social media — which was a violation of his terms of release. McCluskey’s friends had told housing staff that Rowland talked often about bringing a gun to campus — which his status, as a felon, prohibited him from possessing. But housing officials never passed the information on to police, and officers never did a search for his status.

A report by the Utah Department of Public Safety released in December had discussed Rowland’s positive marijuana test, his use of the dating app and the failures that lead to U. police not realizing Rowland was on parole. The new documents elaborate on how Utah’s parole system monitored Rowland, who has since been described as cunning and evasive.

The log shows the day Rowland left prison, he contacted his parole agent.

“He seems like he know (sic) what he wants and wants to do it right,” the log says. “The last experience in prison was not pleasant and he does not want to go back.”

That log entry also noted Rowland was going to call the Utah Department of Workforce Services to find a job. The entry said Rowland wanted to finish his computer science degree at the U.

A spokesman for the U. has previously said Rowland completed seven credit hours there in the fall of 2003 and another five hours in spring of 2004. Rowland did not declare a major and was not enrolled at the U. when he murdered McCluskey.

The log shows Rowland had trouble keeping jobs or working enough hours at them, which is not unusual for parolees with limited work experience. He worked briefly at a bakery, it says. He also worked as a doorman at bars around Salt Lake City, which is how he met McCluskey.

Rowland rented a room at the HomeInn Hotel, near 300 South and Rio Grande Street. It caters to former inmates, sex offenders and homeless individuals and often lets tenants stay there in exchange for volunteer work or help maintaining the place. There are also notations that Rowland discussed seeking custody of his young son.

During a home inspection May 29, the agent looked at Rowland’s cellphone and found he was using a dating app. There was a message to a woman with a 5-year-old daughter, the agent noted. As a sex offender, Rowland was not allowed to interact with children who weren’t his family or without approval from his parole agent. Terms of his parole also required Rowland abstain from social media. He told the officer he didn’t think the app was part of that.

“I told him I’m considering it as a social media site which is against his parole conditions,” the agent wrote. “He didn’t like my response but said he will comply.”

There was no indication in the log whether agents ever again checked Rowland’s phone or looked online for his possible social media use; McCluskey would tell campus officers months later that Rowland was using social media.

Rowland’s original convictions were for sexually assaulting a teenage girl he met on the internet and trying to solicit sex from a 13-year-old girl he met online but who was really an undercover cop.

During the visit with his agent on Aug. 15, Rowland admitted to smoking marijuana at a birthday party the weekend prior. Rowland said he did so in part because he had been in pain. Other log entries noted he had an ankle injury and had received a prescription for pain medication.

The agent commended Rowland for his honesty and had him take a urinalysis. That same log entry also notes Rowland had missed an appointment with a counselor he was required to attend.

Yet the entry also said Rowland was “studying really hard” for an exam to become a Cisco Certified Network Associate. Passing that exam would help him get a job in information technology. There’s no indication of whether Rowland passed the exam or even took it. If that didn’t work out, he had planned to learn how to fix heating and cooling systems.

Rowland was classified as being on a “moderate” level of supervision. When there is a violation of parole terms, Blanchard said, agents plug those violations into a matrix that considers that supervision level as well as other factors unique to the parolee.

In Rowland’s case, Blanchard said, the agent was within his or her discretion to give Rowland the warnings rather than seek his return to prison. Blanchard pointed to signs Rowland was trying to better himself and characterized him as “generally compliant.”

But it’s possible, had the agent known about the reports McCluskey filed to U. police, that he could have been sent back behind bars.

Adult Probation and Parole cooperated with both the state public safety investigation and the university’s own inquiry. Blanchard said the agency is working to fix a problem found after McCluskey’s murder — how not every common identifier is included in the database of probationers and parolees. The U. has said an officer there ran Rowland’s driver license number, but because that was not in the Adult Probation and Parole database, the officer did not get an alert Rowland was under supervision.

Blanchard, who supervised probationers and parolees before moving into administration, said he, too, had offenders he thought were doing well only to commit serious crimes.

“They’re hard for the agents,” Blanchard said. “They’re hard to look at and wonder what you could have done.”

In September, the agent talked with Rowland about potentially taking a polygraph test. The issue that triggered that discussion is not described, but the agent warned him that failing it could send him back to prison. At one point, the agent notes in his report, he discussed the possibility of Rowland “submitting a report to the board asking for his parole termination.” He was set to be done with parole May 12 of this year.

Rowland missed an appointment with his agent in October, but in the middle of the month texted the agent with his new number. The log notes that Rowland did a good job of staying in touch with him by phone calls and emails.

That was about the same time McCluskey reported receiving texts and threats from a number she didn’t recognize, but which she suspected was Rowland or his friends. The agent had no idea about that.