How the University of Utah’s police department treated female victims and officers for years before Lauren McCluskey’s killing

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah student Celene Beth Calderon says she experienced a refusal by the University of Utah's police department to investigate when she was raped in 2006.

Officer Jennifer Smalley watched from behind a one-way window as two male detectives questioned a possible rape victim at the University of Utah’s police department.

For hours after Smalley had brought the student in, her colleagues quizzed the woman about her decisions rather than her assault. They asked her what color her dress was, Smalley said. They wanted to know what underwear she had been wearing and whether her roommates had ever tried them on. Their list went on: What brand of vodka she was drinking. How many cups she’d had. Who purchased it. Whether she was in love with the guy she was reporting.

If she had been a virgin before that night.

“They didn’t believe that the assault actually happened,” said Smalley, recalling the case from about five years ago that haunts her, even after she’s left law enforcement. “They were hostile. It was disgusting.”

A year after the killing of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey on campus revealed flawed police work by the department, University of Utah students and others continue to question the culture among male officers there. At meetings and rallies and online, students say their reports have also been ignored or minimized.

Their depiction of a department that struggles to effectively handle offenses against women is buttressed by interviews with victims, nearly a dozen former employees and by discipline reports and other documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune under public record requests.

The independent investigation conducted after McCluskey’s death found campus police weren’t trained to respond to possible interpersonal violence, had not recognized that McCluskey was at risk from a man she had dated, and had not communicated adequately with her or connected her to a victim advocate.

Similar shortcomings echo through students’ accounts and records of cases years before and some since.

During Police Chief Dale Brophy’s tenure, 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 by not creating a record for some calls or altering dispatch log entries for others.

[Read more: The University of Utah police department built by former Chief Dale Brophy included leaders disciplined in previous jobs]

When one student told officers that her former boyfriend had stalked her for months, twice rigging a tire to fall off her Jeep while she was driving, they closed the case without an arrest. Still scared, she got a no-contact order only after getting help from university administrators.

These accounts come as the U. searches for new public safety leadership and as McCluskey’s parents allege in a $56 million lawsuit that officers there discriminated against women.

Brophy, who retired last month, said he doesn’t believe many of the stories are true, dismisses others as coming from disgruntled former employees and generally denies that a discriminatory environment existed at the campus department. But he also added, referring to the scope of individual accounts of harassment or poor communication with students reporting assaults: “I’m not saying that stuff didn’t happen. I just have no idea. I wasn’t made aware of it.”

Acting Chief Rick McLenon, who previously worked with Brophy in West Valley City, said he doesn’t believe women have been put at risk by its work or policies. “We don’t tolerate people that don’t take victims seriously,” he said.

Despite saying there weren’t widespread problems, McLenon said there has been a “change in the culture that had been established" since McCluskey’s death.

For example, the department now requires officers and detectives to contact those reporting crimes within 24 hours, said McLenon, who became interim chief in October.

Smalley worries, though, that the culture was entrenched. She would like to see a broader overhaul of leadership or, she fears, the problems will persist.

She said she saw female victims mistreated and female co-workers being harassed during her 15 years of service. By the time she left in March 2016, feeling forced out by Brophy’s decision to place her on leave, only one of the seven female officers she had worked with remained on staff.

“They didn’t believe women,” Smalley said. “They put them at risk.”

In the case with the rape victim she brought in, she recalled, the student decided against pursuing charges.

The department before Brophy

Former University of Utah officer Jenn Cooper, one of the women who worked with Smalley, said she also worried about officers’ attitudes toward women.

The department had been led by Chief Scott Folsom for two years when she arrived in 2006. Cooper said she saw officers “adjust” reports of rape and domestic violence calls, leaving out details about the severity of allegations. Those were the only types of reports she was asked to change, she said, and she felt it was because the department did not take crimes against women seriously.

A former dispatcher also said that lieutenants under both Folsom and Brophy asked her to change domestic violence cases to “suspicious circumstances” in the police log to make the number of such calls lower.

A second former dispatcher said she was also asked to make such changes under Brophy, who joined the department as Folsom’s deputy chief in 2013 and inherited the top post in 2015. They said domestic violence calls were the only ones they were asked to reclassify.

The Tribune agreed not to identify the two women, who have continuing connections to the university and said they fear retaliation. The Tribune verified their identities and their employment at the department.

When Cooper went out on domestic violence calls where a husband or male partner was present and said everything was OK, she said, she was instructed to leave and make no note of the call. “Even if we could see the woman cowering behind the door,” she said.

Celene Beth Calderon, who was a student living on campus in 2006, told Folsom’s officers she had been raped in her dorm room by a man she had just met. She said the officers seemed disinterested in taking down details and didn’t seem to believe her. The report, obtained by The Tribune, is three pages long, does not describe any investigation beyond talking to Calderon and shows the case was closed after a month.

“The police there swept it under the rug, told me sorry it happened and said I should move on,” Calderon said. She reached out to McCluskey’s mom, Jill, on Twitter after the murder last year to share her experience with U. police.

Cooper believes Calderon’s situation was not unique. One example: From May 2011 to November 2011, four women reported they had been assaulted by the same man. No one looked into it until the fourth report, Cooper said. The Tribune reviewed reports of those cases; the first three do not describe any investigation beyond talking to the women. The fourth report notes the series of accusations. The man was charged in December of that year with three counts of attempted forcible sexual abuse, to which he pleaded guilty.

Cooper said she also responded to a call from a female employee at the U. who alleged she was raped twice by her boss. She said she heard a male officer say directly to the woman: “Well, I don’t believe you.”

The former officer now lives in Washington state and has connected with McCluskey’s family, who live in Pullman, Wash. She was fired from the U.’s police department in 2012 after a suspect she arrested escaped from her patrol car.

Her experiences are cited in the McCluskeys’ lawsuit as an alleged example of women mistreated in the department. The suit’s summary said officers urinated in her bag and in her locker, used derogatory language toward women and didn’t respond to internal sexual harassment reports. The university has asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, saying it cites insufficient evidence and is based on flawed legal theories.

Cooper said officers also cut her zip ties so short that she couldn’t use them during arrests, hid the keys to her patrol car and altered the sights on her rifle. The leadership there, she added, called the group of female officers the “p---- posse” and often asked: “Who’s on their period?”

She went to human resources three times, she said, but as far as she knows, nothing was done. “I had six years of bulls---,” she said. “I was being sabotaged. After a while, I stopped making complaints.”

Chief Folsom was disciplined himself for how he responded to a woman’s concerns. He received a letter in his file in May 2014 for mismanaging a domestic violence case, after two previous warnings from university administrators for similar past incidents.

The 2014 letter, which The Tribune received in a records request, said Folsom didn’t send a warning to the campus until six days after a rape and alleged abduction of a woman by her husband. Timely alerts on those types of cases are required by federal law. Folsom responded by saying that he knew who the possible suspect was, so he didn’t see a need to communicate about the incident.

The note from an administrator said: ”I believe you possess many fine capabilities but this pattern of exercising poor judgment regarding the communication of sensitive or concerning issues cannot be tolerated."

Folsom served for 11 years before stepping down in January 2015. University spokesman Chris Nelson said he couldn’t speak directly to the Folsom letter as a personnel matter, but said the school isn’t dwelling on the past. "We’re committed to having a police department that is respected on campus,” he said.

McLenon, who worked under Folsom for a year but did not work with Cooper, said he doesn’t believe her account. “I’ve never heard of any of that,” the acting chief said, adding that “if [employees] don’t feel like they’re getting a fair shake, there are other avenues in place, and our employees know what those are.”

As far as changing domestic violence cases, he added that was not happening “to my knowledge,” but said sergeants often review reports before they are submitted and might change a designation based on the definition of a crime.

Brophy, who also didn’t work with Cooper, said, “There’s probably not much of a story. There are people who lost their positions who are just upset about it.” Folsom did not respond to calls for comment.

Students say reports not taken seriously

Katie Stokes was pulling out of the parking lot of her campus dorm in September 2015 when it felt like the road fell out from under her Jeep. She opened her door and saw that her car had tipped to one corner, where the tire had fallen off. She called campus police, by then led by Brophy, to help.

While she waited, she noticed there weren’t any parts on the ground. No bolts. No screws. Only the bare tire. “At first I just thought it was weird,” Stokes said.

The next day, though, when she walked out to her car, there was a bag of lug nuts on the front seat with a note signed by her ex-boyfriend. She called police again; this time to report him.

“I was crying and begging the officer to tell me what to do,” Stokes said. “I told him that this guy is trying to hurt me.”

It was the second time her tire had come off since she had broken up with the man, who was also a student at the U. and had become controlling and abusive, she said. The first time it happened, she didn’t suspect it was him. Now she was sure it wasn’t a coincidence; she was also missing some belongings and her social media accounts had been hacked. She told the officer it all seemed connected, and she was scared.

“It will eventually stop,” she remembers the officer telling her. “... He’ll get bored of this and move on.”

She called several more times about incidents over the next few months. She eventually found her license plates inside her dorm room with another note from the student. “I didn’t know what he was going to do next," she said, “how violent he would get, how long he would stalk me.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) When Katie Stokes was a University of Utah student in 2015, she called campus police after someone rigged a tire on her car to fall off. Police, she says, were not helpful. She called a few more times about related incidents, but again police did not help protect her from her ex-boyfriend, she says.

Stokes asked campus police to run a DNA test on the license plate. But they told her it was too expensive, and they were closing the case, she said. “The police were honestly no help."

Officers never connected her to a victim advocate, she said. But Stokes eventually turned to the Dean of Students Office, which helped her get a no-contact order against the student. When he broke it by trying to lure her out of her dorm, he was kicked out of school — nearly a year after the first incident. The Tribune reviewed files from that student discipline hearing and police reports.

McLenon disputes the account, saying the police department did “an in-depth investigation” and closed the case when the district attorney’s office declined to file charges. Brophy added: “We took a report and did investigations. So what [Stokes and other women] are saying is probably not factual.”

The Tribune spoke with other female students who said they also felt frustrated by what they considered incomplete investigations of their cases and poor communication from officers. And beginning in October, students have been sharing their negative experiences with safety on campus on Unsafe U, an Instagram page created as a response to the university’s “Safe U” campaign to improve security.

Students have said on the account that they were not given information about other resources on campus; the department has since hired its own victim advocate.

Other women have written on the page that they reported sexual assaults to the campus department, but officers would not help them arrange forensic exams. One woman told The Tribune she was advised rape evidence kits were “too costly” for the department.

The number of rape evidence kits processed by the state for U. police does appear to show a gap. In 2018, for example, the U. told the federal government that 12 rapes were reported on campus. But the university told the Utah Department of Public Safety that campus police recorded four rapes on campus, and rape kits were submitted on three.

McLenon said investigations are “not cost-driven.” And sometimes a victim reports months or years after an assault, he added, and a forensic exam wouldn’t provide evidence. “There are explanations that would be feasible,” he said.

A few students on the Instagram account have also said that U. officers questioned whether they were virgins when they reported a sexual assault. That matches Smalley’s experience, and the two former dispatchers said they heard officers make similar remarks. One recalls, in particular, a lieutenant who would often say a woman reported an assault only because “she’d just had a bad time losing her virginity.”

McLenon, the acting chief, said officers don’t ask about virginity, though “there could be questions related to partners, the last time you had intercourse.” Brophy, the former chief, added in a separate interview, “I can’t verify if that happened or not. There are questions that may be appropriate based on the case.”

He added: “But no one is happy when they’re the victim of a crime. I had my car broke into, and I wasn’t happy with the process.”

McLenon also said that he and Brophy brought “Start By Believing” training, which teaches officers to have trust in victims, to the department when they began working there about six years ago.

But in October 2018, McCluskey became so frustrated with campus police that she twice reached out to Salt Lake City police’s dispatch line looking for more help. McCluskey, 21, had contacted campus police multiple times about her concerns about the man she had dated, Melvin S. Rowland, who extorted her by threatening to release compromising pictures. He killed her Oct. 22, 2018, and later died by suicide.

Student Stephanie Orgill made a similar call to Salt Lake City police a year earlier, in October 2017.

She had called U. police first, reporting that a student in one of her classes had threatened to kill her and told her he was planning to stab her over fall break. A campus officer said since the threat was sent over text, “that wasn’t their jurisdiction.”

Orgill then called Salt Lake City police, and the officer there told her that campus police “are always passing the buck to us and never taking things seriously,” she said. The Tribune reviewed both of the police reports from her calls.

The Salt Lake City officer wrote in a 10-page report: “I feel the U of U should know, as well, [that] SLC police do very little law enforcement on campus.” He then called dispatch there to alert the campus department it had to take the case.

The U. officer’s file is six pages; the officer wrote that Orgill only wanted “our police department to be aware of the situation.” Two weeks later, after calling Orgill, a detective wrote she had told Orgill that if she didn’t want to press charges, there was nothing the department could do. “This case is closed,” it reads.

It was the same detective — Kayla Dallof — who was assigned to investigate McCluskey’s concerns but didn’t. U. police Lt. Jason Hinojosa reviewed the file and also repeated: Orgill “said she just wanted to document it.”

Orgill said that was not the case. She and any victims from any time in the past, Hinojosa countered, can come back to the department and he will reexamine their files. “I don’t want these victims to think it’s a lost cause,” he added.

Not knowing what else to do at the time, though, Orgill withdrew from the class. “Each interaction I had with campus police felt really half-assed and like I was causing them problems by making any report at all,” she said. “They even wrote down my address wrong. Meanwhile, I was worried about my life.”

Orgill graduates this semester and fears students, particularly women, are at risk on campus because the university’s police don’t believe them.

Officers disciplined for responses to women

At least 18 staff discipline cases were opened and resolved during Brophy’s tenure in the department. Some of the most serious involved male officers who had continuing issues with responding to women.

In November 2015, for example, a male officer was written up for disregarding a domestic violence case. He never attempted to contact the victim, according to discipline records The Tribune obtained through public records requests.

That letter was a “final written warning” after several previous letters for failing to investigate an accident, not submitting reports and, in May 2015, “not properly investigating a man with a gun call.” He was asked to complete more training after ignoring the domestic violence case.

Another male officer received a written warning in September 2016 for not calling victims for weeks after he was assigned to investigate reports and failing to take notes. In one case involving a woman, it took him 16 days to get in touch with her.

He’d gotten a previous letter in January 2015, a memo that August, was spoken to by Brophy in December and talked to again in April 2016. But for the lapses described in the September 2016 letter, there was no punishment.

A third male officer — who was written up at least four times previously — got his second “final written warning” for neglect of duty on a domestic violence case in September 2018. In one case described in the letter, he “did not indicate if warrants/POs [probation or parole orders] were checked on involved parties” where a husband was threatening a wife.

That particular reprimand — the month before McCluskey was killed — raises questions. In the aftermath of her murder, Brophy told the independent investigators his force hadn’t been trained to check suspects for parole status.

That was one of the most significant mistakes the reviewers said was made in McCluskey’s case. Rowland, a 37-year-old registered sex offender, was on parole. And some of her allegations could have sent him back to prison. But police never checked his status.

McLenon insisted that was not a policy, despite the discipline record, and said he can’t speak to the specifics of the officer’s letters. Brophy said that has since changed, and officers are now required to run the check.

The officer who received the September 2018 letter also didn’t get witness statements from women. And he was inappropriately using the records system to look up personal associates — which is illegal and can result in the revocation of an officer’s certification.

“The reports that are noted above all have the potential to bring a negative reputation to our department along with delayed or a lack of service to our community,” his supervisor wrote.

But the man was given a detective position within months of the last warning.

McLenon said discipline is “evaluated as part of the [promotion] process” but other factors are taken into account. Brophy said the department believes in progressive discipline, and that the letters follow a set process. “I’m OK and I’m confident in the decisions I made," he said. "I think the department is in a much better place than it was when I first took over.”

All of those male officers have left the department by choice.

Meanwhile, the three female officers who were written up were disciplined for being late for multiple shifts and other missteps that appear less severe than the men’s cases. Smalley was placed on leave for taking too long to file reports.

After McCluskey’s case, two officers — Dallof and Miguel Deras — were written up for mishandling domestic violence calls under the university’s new “zero-tolerance policy.” Dallof was fired while Deras was allowed to remain on staff.

Dallof has since told The Tribune that she feels she was used as a scapegoat. She believes the department’s culture has not changed, and men and women are disciplined unevenly. “I’m very concerned about the process up there and what’s going on,” Dallof said.

A large part of the problem, she believes, was a lack of training.

While Smalley and other former employees said they requested but were denied training that would better equip them to handle relationship violence, Brophy insisted: "I provided as much training as anybody needed.”

But Jenn Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said she got the cold shoulder from Brophy as she offered training several times. She approached him after McCluskey’s slaying, she said, and he got upset and wouldn’t engage in the conversation.

“I pointed out that we had even offered to do the training before McCluskey was killed and they had declined,” she said. “That’s when he got defensive. He felt it wasn’t appropriate for a campus setting.”

Since McCluskey’s death, the U. has trained all police staff about interpersonal violence issues and adopted the lethality assessment Oxborrow had offered.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "She has been through hell so believe me when I say, fear her when she looks into a fire and smiles." Detective Kayla Dallof said she was subjected to such a toxic work environment at the University of Utah Police Department that she had the phrase from author Darynda Jones tattooed on her wrist to bolster her spirit during a trying time professionally and personally.

Female officers describe harassment

Like Cooper, Smalley said officers’ attitudes toward women were reflected in how they treated female co-workers.

She had joined the department in 2007. When she felt ready to move up, she asked a supervisor for advice. He scanned her body, she said, and told her: “Grow your hair out. You’d look prettier that way.”

Several officers also made comments about her chest, she said, and after she had breast reduction surgery, a leader said to her, “What a waste.” As she sat in the break room for lunch, she said, male officers around her made sexist jokes.

Two former dispatchers and one of the male officers said that male leadership would ask female employees to sit on their laps. Smalley and the dispatchers also said some of the men in the department would openly rank whom they wanted to sleep with in the office.

Smalley said she went to HR several times to report the behavior toward her, other female officers and women she saw coming in to report crimes. But, she said, her concerns never made it beyond Brophy, who was promoted to chief in 2015. Meanwhile, he demoted her over her late reports, then put her on leave when she continued to miss deadlines.

She also attempted to file a case with the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity, which responds to allegations of discrimination, she said, but it never opened an investigation.

Smalley said she didn’t realize how serious her encounters were until her new employer asked her to watch a training video on sexual harassment. She started crying, she said, as it played.

Dallof said she also experienced harassment. One male officer, in particular, talked about her looks in a way “that I was not comfortable with.” She reported him, she said, and he was promoted. She got a tattoo on her wrist about having "been through hell” while she was at the department, to mark what she was going through.

A dispatcher who worked at the department from 2015 until she quit earlier this year also said her repeated complaints were ignored. She said she reported a male sergeant for once telling her: “It was a good decision not to wear a bra today.” She reported another male officer for touching her arms and legs.

“Every day I went in with fear," she said. "It’s a pretty terrible place to the point where I was hospitalized for six days” for the effects of stress.

Another dispatcher and two former male officers, whose identities and employment The Tribune also verified, also said their allegations of misconduct were ignored.

In addition to approximately 40 sworn officers in the department today, the campus police chief also oversees nearly 100 security guards in the same office space. During Brophy’s term as chief, the only case opened by university Equal Opportunity (OEO) officials was filed by a female security guard in February 2016.

She said a co-worker had stalked her for months and continually asked her out after she told him to stop. He pushed her against a wall during one of their shifts, she said, and kissed her. At one point, she asked the dispatchers to watch campus security cameras to make sure he didn’t attack her again.

He was allowed to resign in March 2016. Nothing was put in his file.

Former staffers also told the The Tribune that Brophy and McLenon frequently yelled at women. McLenon, several recounted, once screamed at a female employee in his office while she cried. She ran out of his office, and he shouted: “Get the f--- back in here.” Brophy was in the lobby and added, “You better listen.” She later quit.

McLenon acknowledged that exchange occurred and said he is now asking the woman to return to the department. The conversation, he added, was about poor performance, and he said they disagreed about how to do the job. “I do recall one situation where someone left my office crying,” he said. “We are passionate here.”

When Brophy was a lieutenant in West Valley City, he received a discipline letter for yelling at a female coworker over the phone. “You became angry and profane. This is not acceptable,” the letter in his file read.

Today, “I don’t consider myself a yeller. But I am intense," Brophy said.

With most accounts of the alleged harassment, though, McLenon denied any misconduct taking place. “I’m not aware of that,” he said. Or, “I never heard anyone talk about that in the office.” Brophy did, as well, calling it “a bunch of unvalidated rumors that are absolutely not true." He added: “I’m comfortable, with the process through OEO and HR, that everybody who worked there had due process.”

A question of change

When McCluskey filed her first written report about Rowland with campus police, her friend Alex went along to the station. From the beginning, she said, the officers didn’t seem concerned and suggested Rowland “seemed like a nice guy.”

They had looked up the wrong person, and Alex had to show them on her phone the criminal record for Rowland, she said. Still grieving, she asked to be identified by only her first name.

Two nights after McCluskey was killed, Alex said, a campus detective stopped her in a parking lot as she was walking into her dorm. He asked Alex to get into his squad car, she said, so officers could talk to her at the station about what had happened.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alex is a University of Utah student who went with Lauren McCluskey when she first went to the police station to report her concerns about her ex-boyfriend.

Alex told him she wanted to call McCluskey’s parents first. “Her parents don’t need to know everything,” she remembers him saying. And he followed her inside the building.

Alex called her dad, who then talked to the detective and told him to leave his daughter alone. From her experiences, she said, she believes campus officers “don’t take women seriously. And that tells me they’re not capable of change.”

As further proof the university is changing, though, McLenon said the police department is hiring a sergeant who will be in charge of conducting training and, for the past two months, detectives have been tracking all domestic violence cases. The department has also hired two female detectives, he noted.

“There’s a chance for us to communicate better,” he said. “It doesn’t sit well with me that we have victims calling to say they didn’t get the service they deserve.”

The university declined to provide a statement from President Ruth Watkins for this story. She has insisted since McCluskey’s slaying that there is no “reason to believe this tragedy could have been prevented.” But she has since said it “revealed problems” on campus.

Instead, the university’s chief financial officer, Cathy Anderson, who oversees the police department, said the school will move forward with hiring a police chief to replace Brophy and a chief security officer to look over safety on campus.

It will be up to those new hires, she said, to decide whether to investigate continuing concerns brought up by students who say they haven’t been believed.