Lauren McCluskey told Detective Kayla Dallof she was afraid the man she had just stopped dating was going to hurt her. The detective opened a case but did nothing else — taking her planned days off without alerting anyone to McCluskey’s fears.
Before Dallof returned to work, McCluskey had been killed.
The University of Utah detective was not disciplined for that, but she was warned to not handle such cases with the same indifference. She did again, though, months later — when responding to a February death threat against a 17-year-old girl who had been trying to break up with a U. student.
That student had trapped the teenage girl in his dorm room. He screamed in a voicemail that he would kill her. And the campus detective similarly left for the weekend without taking any action.
For that repeated lack of urgency, Dallof was fired. The Salt Lake Tribune obtained her termination notice this week.
It’s the strongest disciplinary action, so far, to come out of the campus police department’s many missteps leading up to McCluskey’s killing on Oct. 22, shortcomings that were detailed in an independent critical review. U. President Ruth Watkins had said shortly after McCluskey’s death that no individual officers would be punished for how they had handled the student’s case. The president has held to that.
Dallof’s termination in March is instead part of the university’s plan to hold individuals accountable if they break its “zero tolerance policy” moving forward. The detective is the only one who has been fired. Another officer who mishandled McCluskey’s concerns was later disciplined for also making mistakes on a separate domestic violence case, but he remains employed by the department.
U. spokesman Chris Nelson declined to answer questions about whether or how police later assisted the threatened 17-year-old. Rick McLenon, deputy chief of campus police, noted through Nelson that the case is still open, but Nelson said the department leader was unavailable to provide more details Thursday. The Tribune has filed a records request for the report but has not yet gotten a response.
The Tribune received Dallof’s termination notice and other documents months after submitting a public records request. The U. initially refused to release them but agreed to do so after the detective’s appeals were final, as part of a settlement reached during mediation with the newspaper.
Dallof could not be reached for comment Thursday. An attorney she retained after her departure was announced in March also did not return calls.
She now works at the Weber County Sheriff’s office, which said on its Facebook page Friday that it had thoroughly checked her background and stands by its decision to hire her. “She has excelled here ... and we look forward to seeing her continue her success in her career here," it said.
No response to a threat
The detective first responded to the 17-year-old’s report on Feb. 13. The girl, who was not a student at the U., went to the police station to say that earlier that day, a student she had been dating trapped her in his dorm room and wouldn’t let her out.
Dallof talked to the male student the next day, according to her termination letter. He acknowledged he had detained the girl. The detective also spoke again to the 17-year-old, who played a voicemail from the student. He was screaming in the message, mad that she wanted to break up with him. It was from the night before when they had been fighting. And at the end of the recording, he threatened her.
If she didn’t call him back, he yelled, “I will kill you.”
Before leaving work that day, Dallof stopped by her supervisor’s office to tell him about the case. She said she would look at possible charges against the student in the following week, when she came back to work. He told her to forward him the voicemail. She didn’t.
Her boss called Dallof later that night to again ask for a copy of the message. When he finally listened to it, he called her back in so they could reach out to the 17-year-old. It’s unclear whether they reached her immediately or how the case was resolved.
“There was information which supported a criminal charge,” University of Utah police Sgt. Kory Newbold later wrote to Dallof. “Leaving without taking immediate action on this matter is a complete dereliction of duty.”
He continued: “The totality of what was known by you as an investigator of this situation should have signaled an alarm or given you notice that you needed to handle the incident immediately without hesitation and taken the initiative to find the male student and place him under arrest.”
The detective met with the sergeant on Feb. 19 to discuss what went wrong. Newbold wrote that Dallof responded: “I don’t have an answer for that. Do whatever you have to do.”
By Feb. 26, he told her that the university was considering letting her go. By March 5, she was fired. Her benefits continued for the next 10 days.
“The resulting impact of what may have occurred is unthinkable if the male student had attempted or carried out his threat of violence,” Newbold wrote. “Those we serve would be outraged if we failed to address this situation immediately.”
Previously, the school had declined to say whether Dallof resigned voluntarily or was terminated. When her departure from the campus department was first announced in March, she told The Tribune: "I do not have a statement at this time.”
An unsuccessful appeal
The details behind Dallof’s firing were released this week, five months after she left her position, because she has finished the appeals process and the school’s chief financial officer, Cathy Anderson, upheld her termination on Sunday. Anderson’s letter stated: “This decision is the final binding decision of the university.”
Nelson, the university spokesman, declined to comment further Thursday, saying: “We don’t speak to personnel issues.”
In her appeal, Dallof had said she wanted to review the suspect’s phone data before weighing charges. She also said she didn’t see any need for immediate intervention because the student and the 17-year-old lived in different counties, and the suspect didn’t have a car. She felt the situation could wait for her to get back.
A five-member faculty review committee that met July 30 unanimously concluded that her termination was appropriate, particularly after learning that the 17-year-old told Dallof she “was afraid for her safety and that of other females.”
“Ms. Dallof was not alarmed enough to follow basic department protocols for domestic violence or invoke the new zero tolerance policy,” the committee wrote in its decision.
Lauren McCluskey’s parents have criticized how police dismissed their daughter’s reports of harassments for weeks up until her slaying and called for staff discipline. Her killer also did not have a car, but he borrowed one to get to campus the night he shot the 21-year-old track athlete outside her campus dorm. He also had borrowed the gun.
In response to Dallof’s firing, Jill McCluskey said it shows there is “a problem with the culture in campus police.”
“Training, policies, procedures and slogans will not matter if university personnel do not respond with urgency to women’s concerns,” she added. The family is currently suing the U. for $56 million.
Dallof and the entire University of Utah Police Department went through training to better recognize the warning signs she and others had missed in McCluskey’s case. And all officers were told to respond with urgency to any serious fears reported by women on campus.
The faculty review committee had asked Dallof if she understood the rules for responding to these kinds of cases. Dallof said, according to the committee’s letter, that the policies were not clear to her.
On Aug. 18, chief financial officer Anderson upheld the committee’s decision, ending the appeals process. She wrote: “I find the decision to terminate Ms. Dallof to be justified and within the bounds of reason.”
Mistakes with McCluskey
Dallof was hired by the university in March 2016 and promoted to detective in September 2017, according to her LinkedIn profile, which has since been taken down. Before that, she worked as a compliance enforcement officer for Salt Lake City and as an officer in Arizona.
Her last day at the U. was March 5; she was then making $23.22 per hour.
Utah’s police regulators, Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), would investigate the detective only if she were accused of committing a crime or violating the state’s rules for police. Otherwise, she was free to seek employment at another police force; she has an active certification and does not have any open investigations with POST.
The Weber County Sheriff’s Office said its background process for hiring new officers “involves many aspects and a thorough review of all employment history, Utah Peace Officer Standard and Training records as well as all criminal and financial history."
It added: “The Weber County Sheriff’s Office stands behind our decision in hiring Kayla and supports her in continuing her career as a law enforcement officer.”
Another officer, Miguel Deras, received a written warning after he went out on a call to talk to a woman and provide her information about how to report assault by a partner — and let the suspect stay as he interviewed the concerned victim. Like Dallof, Deras had also mishandled McCluskey’s concerns. He accepted the discipline without appeal.
Lauren McCluskey had briefly dated Melvin S. Rowland but ended their relationship Oct. 9 after discovering that he had lied to her about his age and criminal history. The 37-year-old registered sex offender, who was on parole, died by suicide hours after killing her.
Dallof never learned that Rowland was on parole. Some of McCluskey’s earliest allegations could have sent him back to prison for violations of his terms of release.
The detective also never talked to McCluskey in person and never connected McCluskey to the university’s two victim advocates. On the day she died, McCluskey attempted to contact Dallof, but she didn’t hear back.