University of Utah deputy police chief resigns amid investigation

(Photo courtesy of the University of Utah) Pictured is Rick McLenon, who stepped down as deputy chief of the U.'s police department on Monday, June 8, 2020.

The deputy police chief at the University of Utah has resigned, a departure that comes less than a month after he was put on leave during an independent investigation into how one of his officers handled sensitive photos of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey before she was killed.

Rick McLenon stepped down Monday, U. spokesman Chris Nelson confirmed. He declined to say why the deputy chief left or whether it was related to the investigation by the state Department of Public Safety.

“I don’t know,” Nelson said. “The university has not received the report back from DPS.” He added about McLenon: “We thank him for his service.”

McLenon could not immediately be reached by phone Wednesday night.

Individuals familiar with the department have told The Salt Lake Tribune that McLenon was responsible in 2019 for looking into concerns about Officer Miguel Deras, one of the officers assigned to McCluskey’s initial reports that she was being extorted over private photos.

Two other officers have said Deras had a sensitive photo or photos of McCluskey on his personal phone and shared at least one of them with co-workers before she was murdered on campus in October 2018. The U. has confirmed that display did take place.

But the new chief of the department, Rodney Chatman, questioned the “thoroughness” of that internal review, done by McLenon last year, after The Tribune first reported about Deras’ conduct last month. And Chatman placed McLenon and one other staff member on leave while ordering DPS to conduct another investigation into the conduct.

DPS is expected to finish that next week.

McLenon started at the U. in May 2014. He was hired by Dale Brophy, who later took over as chief before also resigning amid the turmoil over the department’s handling of McCluskey’s case. The two had previously worked together at West Valley City’s police department.

McLenon was selected as the interim chief when Brophy left and before Chatman was hired. His salary was around $106,000 annually.

The department has been widely criticized since the U. confirmed to The Tribune that Deras had showed McCluskey’s photos to at least one coworker.

McCluskey had initially reported 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. He opened the photos on his personal phone, the U. has confirmed.

No one reported his display of at least one photo at the time, and Deras was not disciplined for it. He left the department to work for Logan police in September 2019, which was before the university says it confirmed the action. The officer to whom he showed the photos substantiated the account to U. investigators sometime later. And another officer has also since talked to The Tribune about what that officers says happened.

Now Logan police are conducting their own review, in addition to the DPS investigation.

The conduct occurred sometime before McCluskey, 21, was killed on Oct. 22, 2018, outside her dorm by the man who had been blackmailing her over the photos, Melvin S. Rowland. 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, and Rowland later died by suicide.

In addition to concerns about how the McCluskey case was handled, former staffers have also told the The Tribune that McLenon frequently yelled at women in the department. McLenon, several previously 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.” She later quit.

McLenon later acknowledged that exchange occurred. And he pledged to try to hire the woman back. It’s unclear if he was able to before resigning.