The Utah Department of Public Safety will lead the independent investigation looking into a University of Utah officer who saved and displayed at least one explicit photo of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey.
The outside review, which was ordered by the U. on Monday, comes after a report in The Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday disclosed the conduct of Officer Miguel Deras, who was assigned to investigate McCluskey’s extortion case in October 2018. The school did its own internal review in 2019, but the new police chief said Monday he now questions the thoroughness and accuracy of that.
DPS will reexamine the events, and talk to current and former officers.
“University of Utah Police Chief Rodney Chatman met this morning with officials from the Utah Department of Public Safety who have agreed to conduct an independent investigation of the U of U police department’s handling of allegations against a former officer,” said U. spokesman Chris Nelson in a statement.
He declined to detail what the university did in its first investigation of Deras’ behavior, noting, “I think that will come up in this review.”
Joe Dougherty, spokesman for DPS, said the new independent investigation will be handled by the Office of Professional Standards. There are three investigators there and all will be working on this case.
The U. has previously said it anticipates the review will be completed in three to four weeks. Dougherty said Tuesday it’s too early to know, and it could take longer.
“We promise a thorough and complete investigation,” he added, “so the university can make whatever decisions it needs to with this.”
At the same time, the Peace Officer Standards and Training office under DPS, known as POST, will lead its own separate review. That will look specifically at the conduct and possible discipline, Dougherty added. POST oversees, and can suspend or cancel, officer certification.
The school has declined to provide the report from its internal review, after previously telling The Tribune there was no report and then disclosing there was one Monday. The U. claims that because the report reached no conclusions, the school does not plan to release it.
In a letter shared with members of the media Tuesday, Deras’ newly retained attorneys said, “Officer Deras did nothing wrong, and he has already been investigated and cleared." Lawyer Jeremy Jones wrote that the claims were “dismissed as unfounded," which conflicts with the university’s statement to The Tribune.
Deras had been assigned to investigate McCluskey’s concerns when she first came to the U.’s campus police department to report that someone was threatening to release compromising photos she had taken of herself if she didn’t hand over $1,000. Scared by the demand, she paid the money and then sent copies of the messages and the pictures to Deras as evidence for her case.
The U. has confirmed, in statements to The Tribune, that Deras saved the photos on his personal phone, and that he displayed at least one image to a male co-worker during a shift change at the department before McCluskey was killed. The school said it spoke to that co-worker as part of its internal review, and it said the co-worker was the same rank as Deras. The U. had previously told The Tribune that the display by Deras was not for the purpose of work.
For example, in a email to The Tribune in February, U. police Lt. Jason Hinojosa wrote: “It was determined during the review that it was unnecessary for our former officer to show this image during the briefing.”
But the school now says it cannot confirm that point, and said Tuesday that the independent review will look at whether the display was work-related.
In the letter, Jones wrote that Deras “received the photos via his department email and they were accessed on his personal phone because officers did not have department-provided phones at the time.”
He continued: “The photos were raised within the context of a routine investigatory briefing. Officer Deras inquired with his chain of command regarding how the photos should be handled and stored. Those directives were followed.”
Deras “never shared the photos in question, and certainly not in the manner described,” Jones wrote.
The Tribune also talked to another officer, who said he overheard the conversation between Deras and the co-worker, and that officer said Deras “boasted” about having the photo. The U. has said it denies that Deras made such a comment, and Jones wrote that Deras “did not, and would not, brag about a photo like that."
No one reported the display of the photo at the time. The U. did not investigate until it learned of the allegation in 2019, and it claims it doesn’t have any physical evidence of Deras’ behavior. Its investigation included a July 2019 download of the files on the officer’s phone. But Deras had gotten a new phone before that and most of what was retrieved in the process was corrupted, the U. said.
Deras left the department to work for Logan police in September 2019, which was before the university says it confirmed the display by talking with the co-worker. The Logan Police Department, where Deras still works, said this week it will conduct its own review.
In the meantime, two individuals in the campus department who conducted the university’s initial review of Deras’ behavior will be put on administrative leave during the new investigation, the U. has said. Nelson declined to identify them. But Chatman said that work was not thorough and the allegations raise a possible “serious breach of trust and a violation of professional law enforcement standards.”
McCluskey, 21, was shot and killed on Oct. 22, 2018, outside her dorm by Melvin S. Rowland, the man who had been extorting her over the photos. McCluskey had briefly dated him and tried to warn campus officers about him several times after they broke up. But they did little to look into her concerns, an independent report later found. Rowland later died by suicide.