Days before student-athlete Lauren McCluskey was killed, a University of Utah police officer showed off explicit photos that McCluskey had taken of herself to at least three of his male co-workers without a work-related reason, according to a monthslong investigation from the Utah Department of Public Safety.
One staffer recounted that Officer Miguel Deras commented specifically about getting to “look at them whenever he wants.” And that employee admitted that he, too, made crude remarks when seeing the images, which McCluskey had given Deras as evidence in her extortion case. Another said that the other officers chimed in, saying Deras was “lucky” to get to work on the case and that McCluskey was a “cute girl.”
Those findings were released by the U. on Wednesday after an investigation spurred by a May report in The Salt Lake Tribune about Deras’s misconduct. At that time, the university confirmed that the display had occurred, but it decided its own internal review had not been thorough enough and called in DPS to investigate further.
The state’s final report reinforces and expands on The Tribune’s reporting, concluding the images were displayed inappropriately at the end of a staff briefing in October 2018 by the same officer who was supposed to be investigating McCluskey’s concerns of exploitation by a man she had dated.
[Read more: Complete coverage of Lauren McCluskey]
“Sometime after the briefing, Officer Deras showed the images to a group of officers,” the report said.
The investigators were unable to determine whether Deras had saved or downloaded the intimate photos to his personal phone, as one former officer told The Tribune he had seen. But, the report notes, Deras switched phones after McCluskey was killed, so much of the data later recovered on his device was encrypted or corrupted. The review team did find, though, that Deras opened the images on his phone by accessing his work email and displayed them that way on four occasions.
That occurred with the three officers after the briefing, as well at least three more times with supervisors, DPS notes. During two of those, Deras later said, he was trying to ask how to upload the pictures to the department’s evidence database, despite having worked for the department for three years. On the other, he showed a sergeant one of the nude photos of McCluskey while they were at the crime scene on the night she was fatally shot on campus, after the superior said, “I wonder what she looked like.”
Deras did not respond Wednesday for comment. But his attorneys released a letter in which they maintain his innocence and say he “acted appropriately at every turn.”
“He is not, nor has he ever been, a boogeyman,” said Jeremy Jones, who is representing Deras, portraying the DPS report as corroborating the officer’s account.
Deras’s legal counsel noted that only one officer in the report specifically accused Deras of saying anything inappropriate. The lawyers assert that officer “misremembers” what happened, and claim that one of the three officers denied the display and conversation occurred.
However, all three officers confirmed to DPS that Deras showed off the photos and each of the three said it was not for work purposes. The U. also has said from the beginning that the display was not related to the job.
There was no immediate response on action from the Logan police department, where Deras now works, after leaving the U. in September 2019. The Logan police chief had also promised to investigate the misconduct. In a Facebook post, he said “we will have further comment once we have had time to review the case information in its entirety.”
The state hasn’t yet determined whether it will suspend or revoke Deras’s police certification based on the findings, said Maj. Scott Stephenson, who oversees the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) division, which is responsible for discipline within law enforcement.
But following the report from DPS, Police Chief Rodney Chatman announced action was taken against three individuals, largely for not reporting the misconduct when it first occurred or for participating in the inappropriate remarks. They have the right to appeal.
“It is inexcusable for any law enforcement officer to discuss photos or information provided by a victim outside of clear and legitimate law enforcement reasons,” Chatman said in a statement.
He later added in a call with The Tribune: “What I learned through the course of this investigation was troubling to me. It is not the way we will be doing business.”
Rick McLenon, the deputy police chief at the department who was initially responsible for looking into the concerns when they were first raised by The Tribune last year in a public records request, already resigned earlier this summer before the report was concluded.
For the review, DPS staff interviewed nearly 40 current and former employees of the U.‘s campus police department, including embattled former Chief Dale Brophy. Deras declined to participate.
Showing the pictures on 4 occasions
The DPS investigation delineates the four times Deras showed the photos of McCluskey to co-workers. The Tribune had talked to two officers to report its May story about the third display.
Deras had been assigned to look into McCluskey’s concerns of extortion when she first came into the department on Oct. 13, 2018, to fill out a statement. She told Deras that someone, although she wasn’t certain who at that moment, had accessed her files and threatened to release the compromising images if she didn’t hand over $1,000. Scared by the demand, McCluskey explained to Deras, she had paid the money online.
She then sent copies of the messages, bank transaction and pictures to Deras’s work email as evidence in her case.
The photos were viewed at the time only by Deras and the other officer taking her statement, the DPS report said. The U. has redacted the names of all officers and sergeants — besides Deras — in the document, though it retained the names of lieutenants and anyone higher up in the department.
Later that day, Deras opened the files through his email account on his personal phone. And, for the first time, he showed them to a superior at the campus department, looking for advice on how to upload them to the evidence system, the report states. He also forwarded them to Detective Kayla Dallof, who was assigned to look into McCluskey’s concerns, as well.
On Oct. 15, during a shift briefing in the department, Deras showed them to a second supervisor, a sergeant, again asking how to attach them to the case file.
The sergeant had initially denied being there and didn’t remember the conversation, but DPS investigators looked at key-card access to the department and found he was the only superior who had checked in and was on shift at the time.
Sometime after that briefing and in the hallway outside, the investigators concluded, Deras then showed the images for a third time to the three other officers who were not working on the case. Some reported having seen the pictures before, in passing, when Deras was talking to a supervisor. But this time, they said, it was not related to the job.
One of the officers told DPS about Deras saying that he could look at the photo “whenever I want.” The employee also “states that he is extremely embarrassed and ashamed of his actions but remembers saying something inappropriate when Deras showed the images while in the UUPD hallway.” The report said he was the only officer that openly admitted to making a derogatory remark and “recognizes that UUPD could discipline him for his actions.”
He said, too, though, that two other officers were there and also made crude comments, but he doesn’t remember exactly what they said. One of those officers then spoke to DPS and said the briefing was “lax” and the sergeant “didn’t do anything to shut down what was going on.”
That officer recalls Deras walking around the briefing table and showing each person the pictures. He said he saw three explicit images and could have made a crude remark; he doesn’t remember. He could recount others saying things like “lucky you got that case” and “cute girl,” the DPS report said. The “lucky” comment, he said in a second interview with investigators, could have also been sarcastic, suggesting that it would be a difficult case to handle.
He said Deras then showed the photos again in the hallway and he heard “some off-color comments” then, too.
DPS investigators said they also heard accusations that this officer had possibly received a copy of the image from Deras. That included a conversation with Detective Dallof, who had been assigned to McCluskey’s case and was later fired from the U. for mishandling a subsequent domestic violence report. She told DPS, as well, that the officer specifically asked her for the photos, “causing her to become very uncomfortable,” but she didn’t send them.
After reviewing their texts and online messages, though, the review team found no evidence to support that Deras or any other officer sent or received copies of any of the images. And that officer denied having any private conversations about it or asking Dallof to see the images. He said he and Deras sometimes engaged in “trash talking” their superiors, but that was it.
The third officer who was shown the photos, confirmed by the other two, said he saw what was happening in the hallway but never saw the images himself, outside of helping Deras with McCluskey’s initial statement. He said he didn’t make any remarks.
Deras’s attorneys question the clarity of the report on those three officers’ accounts. Additionally, despite those officers’ statements to investigators, his attorneys maintain that Deras never showed the photos inappropriately or unnecessarily.
“He professionally and appropriately handled the photos,” the attorneys say. “He wanted to, and did, assist with the exploitation investigation.” (A separate independent review done in 2018, though, says that Deras failed to do much work on the case and never alerted his supervisors of McCluskey’s concerns of being stalked the morning she was killed.)
Shortly after the display, 21-year-old McCluskey was killed on Oct. 22 by Melvin Rowland, the man who had been blackmailing her and whom she had later told Deras was behind the extortion. His harassment of her had started after they broke up, but the department had done little to investigate her concerns, an earlier review team found. After shooting McCluskey outside her campus dorm, Rowland later died by suicide.
On the night of her death, the new DPS report finds, Deras showed a compromising picture of McCluskey to another co-worker, marking the fourth time he displayed one.
That employee, a sergeant, told investigators that he and Deras were standing at the scene when he wondered out loud what McCluskey looked like. He said Deras then held up his phone with one of the images.
“He said it was a sexually explicit image,” the report noted. “He says he doesn’t recall anything else about the photo, only that it was a quick glimpse. … When he saw the photo, he could have said something along the lines of ‘Um, she’s cute’ but doesn’t recall what he said. … He didn’t think Miguel [Deras] showed it to him to get a reaction out of him or for shock value.”
Deras’s attorneys explain that display as “for the sole purpose of providing context for identifying Lauren.” However, the report found, Deras also had a driver license photo of McCluskey on his phone.
The U.’s previous investigation
The U. has said that it didn’t know about the inappropriate behavior by Deras until after he had already left the department — though it is the latest to be disclosed in a string of missteps made by officers in McCluskey’s case, which has drawn national attention and a later federal lawsuit filed by her parents.
The only reason university officials looked into it, they have said, was because of a continued push by The Tribune to obtain public records about how McCluskey’s case was handled. The U. initially said it didn’t have any records of Deras displaying pictures of McCluskey to a co-worker.
But starting late last year and continuing into this year, the U. conducted an internal review and spoke to an officer who said he was directly shown the photos. The university verified his account to The Tribune, calling the display “unnecessary” and not work-related.
After The Tribune’s story published in May, though, the school’s new police chief, Chatman, said he had concerns “with the thoroughness” of the internal review. He asked DPS to investigate further, and it also concluded that the internal review fell “short of being a complete or thorough investigation.”
The U. has previously declined to release its review — in fact, it only recently acknowledged it existed — but a copy is included in the appendix of the DPS investigation, along with an explanation of how it was conducted.
Beginning in December 2019, then acting-chief McLenon ordered Lt. Brian Wahlin to conduct the internal review. Wahlin talked to a few employees then, and again in February of this year. They said that the images were displayed in a work setting.
When talking to DPS, Wahlin said he “didn’t have any training in how to conduct IA [internal affairs] investigations,” though he was given three or four cases to handle at the time. He felt “overloaded with work” and acknowledged that his efforts fell short, including that he never talked to Deras or any former officers.
Additionally, DPS reported, the U.‘s police department “did not have a formalized process or procedure for handling IA cases.” The university’s three-page review concluded only that “there is no evidence that any pictures [of McCluskey] were electronically transferred.”
With that, Wahlin reported to McLenon that there was “nothing there.” And McLenon passed that finding to the U.‘s legal counsel. But McLenon never looked at the actual report until after The Tribune’s story ran months later.
“McLenon admitted it was a failure not to have read the report when it was first written,” the DPS review stated. And he said the internal affairs process needs to be fixed. But he also added, “The systems at the University hinders some of the process of implementing change.”
He declined to answer most other questions from DPS, citing the ongoing lawsuit with McCluskey’s parents. McLenon left the department shortly after his interview. Those who work for the U. were required to participate in the interviews, though they are given legal protections so what they say can’t be used against them in criminal cases. Non-employees are not mandated to say anything. And McLenon was then able to decline a second interview request by DPS.
Deras, too, declined an interview under that same rule. He talked briefly under the same legal protection to Logan police’s internal affairs department, saying only that he displayed the images to two superiors with questions on uploading them.
When DPS tried to separately reach him on June 25, he didn’t respond. His attorneys later told DPS investigators “they weren’t saying no to an interview but contended that they didn’t have enough information about what their client would be asked to effectively counsel” him, the report states.
Utah’s Fraternal Order of Police has also defended Deras, suggesting he didn’t show off the photos.
Besides interviews, DPS investigators also examined a prior download of the contents of Deras’s phone.
In August 2019, the U. had coordinated with West Valley City’s police department to pull the contents from Deras’ personal device, in a failed attempt to determine how many calls there had been between McCluskey and Deras.
According to an agreement he signed, Deras was supposed to be the only person to have a copy of what was recovered. A detective recalled to DPS officials that at the time, he asked McLenon if he could create some record of the download, but said that McLenon insisted on it being “off the record.” McLenon denies that.
And West Valley City, it turned out, had accidentally saved a version and later forwarded that to the U. And the university searched the files in December for any images Deras might have downloaded of McCluskey.
Many of the files, though, were either corrupted or encrypted. What was recovered were mostly pictures of his personal life. And there was no evidence discovered about him saving the photos, which Lt. Wahlin noted in his internal review.
DPS investigators also later looked through the download and only found a picture of McCluskey from her driver’s license, which officers can access. They note that Deras switched phones maybe once or twice and not everything was able to be collected from the phone he used while investigating McCluskey’s case. They agreed there was no way to determine if the explicit images had been downloaded.
But Wahlin, they added, failed to ask if individuals in the department were ever shown the photos inappropriately.
What the U. is doing now — and what could come next for Deras
Even though the DPS investigation took much longer to be completed than expected — 11 weeks compared to the U.‘s initial estimate of three weeks, largely because more witnesses kept coming forward — the school has not waited to take action.
Previously, the U. had announced that it will change the process for how campus police handle sensitive evidence. Any pictures that an officer receives on his or her cellphone must be entered “unaltered,” according to the U.‘s new Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch, into the department’s database before the end of an individual’s shift. They also need to be deleted off of any personal devices. And officers have now been issued work cellphones.
Lynch explained the changes to members of the state Legislature in June, noting specifically that any officer who doesn’t know how to attach a picture to a case file should talk directly to a supervisor. There’s also no reason that an officer would need to show them the explicit photo in order to upload it, he added.
He described those updates as “checks and balances.” And they come in addition to forming a new committee of students and faculty that will review any misconduct on the campus police force — violating the evidence policy or otherwise.
Additionally, after the U. confirmed that Deras had shown off the photos, all campus officers were specifically trained on the best practices for how victims should share pictures related to their case (preferably on a USB drive rather than transmitting any images via email).
The police chief said he also has talked to his officers specifically about reporting misconduct if they see it among their co-workers.
“There is a duty to notify when any behavior falls short of our standards. That is for all ranks,” he said. “That’s just the culture that we need to have.”
Chatman said his team is committed, too, to rebuilding trust on campus. “They are very serious about this work. They are very serious about the safety of this community.”
What comes next, though, specifically for Deras is less clear.
The U. originally did not reported the incident to the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) council, which oversees certifying officers and is responsible for discipline within law enforcement. But now POST is separately looking into the misconduct. A recommendation on action likely wouldn’t come before the council’s September meeting.
Maj. Stephenson, who leads POST, though, previously told The Tribune that Deras could lose his police certification and also face criminal charges. It doesn’t matter whether he saved the photos or not, Stephenson said, showing them was enough to break the law on “revenge porn” in Utah.
Under that, sharing or displaying a compromising photo of someone without the person’s consent can be prosecuted. Because the statute requires proof that a victim was harmed, McCluskey’s death could complicate it, but state legislators are also working to amend that.
Additionally, Stephenson said Deras’s action violate the decency requirements that officers agree to in training.
McCluskey’s parents and the attorneys representing them in a $56 million lawsuit against the university were given a copy of the DPS findings early Wednesday. They have previously criticized Deras for showing the images of their daughter.
McCluskey’s mother, Jill, added Wednesday it is “irrelevant” whether Deras saved the photos on his phone if he could look at them via his email whenever he chose to do so. And Deras showing the pictures at the scene of her daughter’s murder, she said, was “especially hurtful.”
She said: “Deras’ egregious misconduct in betraying a victim’s trust by displaying private evidence photos to officers who are not involved in the investigation is a crime.”
The family is calling on the university to hold accountable the officers who saw the photos, made comments and didn’t report the misconduct. And they also want the school to discipline anyone who “provided and authorized the misleading public statements” previously given by the university that initially denied any inappropriate behavior.
The McCluskeys are also asking for the school to conduct another investigation into how their daughter’s case was handled, saying the new information now casts doubt on the original independent review from 2018.