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Former police chief and officer who showed explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey seek $10M from University of Utah

Their claim of notice, joined by three other officers, is the first step toward filing a lawsuit.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students protest at the University of Utah Police Department in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, calling for action against Officer Miguel Deras and the defunding of the police department.

Former University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy, who received a full year’s salary and a $6,000 party when he retired amid criticism of his department’s handling of Lauren McCluskey’s case, now says he wasn’t treated fairly and he wants the school to pay him millions.

Miguel Deras, a former officer who showed off explicit photos of McCluskey to his male co-workers and quit his job at the U. before that incident was investigated, claims he deserves millions, too.

So does the former deputy police chief, who stepped down and declined to participate in that investigation. And two other former officers have joined them in demanding at least $10 million from the university, arguing they were all mistreated in the fallout from the high-profile case.

Their claims are presented in a legal notice — the first step toward filing a lawsuit or reaching a settlement with a government agency. And they come after the three officers were accused of misconduct or failing to report misconduct, and Brophy and his former deputy chief oversaw the department’s flawed handling of McCluskey’s reports before she was killed on campus in October 2018.

Pictured is Dale Brophy, left, the former police chief at the University of Utah, and Miguel Deras, right, a former police officer at the school.

The Salt Lake Tribune obtained a copy of the four-page notice this week through a public records request. It was submitted on Feb. 3 to the Utah attorney general’s office, which legally represents the U. as the flagship college of the state.

That dates the filing two and a half years after McCluskey, a 21-year-old track athlete, was killed outside her dorm. A later independent review found the campus police department did little to investigate her concerns of extortion by the man who, soon after her reports, shot her to death.

But the former employees say the school is at fault for retaliation and harm to their reputations by publicly pointing the finger at them for mistakes made in the case, especially after then-President Ruth Watkins originally said that no officers would be punished.

They also say they were used as scapegoats to “appease public outcry.”

“The University’s apparent objective was to focus public attention on the Claimants,” the notice states, referring to the five staff members, “rather than its own institutional failings and wrongdoing in relation to Lauren’s case.”

Attorney Jeremy Jones, who wrote the filing and often represents members of Utah’s police union, said in the document that the men have suffered “permanent and irreparable career damage” and some have “been rendered unemployable as a result of the stigma created and cultivated” by the U. after McCluskey’s murder.

While Brophy, Deras and former Deputy Chief Rick McLenon retired or resigned, the two other officers — Mario Sellick and Aaron Nelson — were fired; the U. terminated them last year for knowing but never reporting to their superiors that Deras had inappropriately displayed intimate pictures that McCluskey had taken of herself. She had shared the images with Deras as evidence for her case.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment Monday. After a notice of claim is filed in Utah, the petitioners must wait 60 days before filing a lawsuit. Nothing has been submitted yet to federal or state court.

Spokespersons for both the U. and the Utah attorney general’s office, which acknowledged receipt of the notice, also declined to comment.

Claims from the former police chief

Brophy stepped down in October 2019 — almost a year to the date after McCluskey was killed on Oct. 22, 2018. (The notice of claim incorrectly states her murder occurred on Sept. 2, 2018.)

The legal claim is a shift for the former police chief, who has been quiet since leaving the university.

The notice is largely focused on a late 2019 follow-up investigation into Deras, and it does not list any specific claims by or about Brophy or how the U. allegedly harmed him. Generally, the claim states the university hid certain evidence about the case from the public “to make it easier for the University to scapegoat or blame officers.” It does not detail what that evidence is or specify how each officer or administrator was allegedly blamed.

For weeks before her death, McCluskey had repeatedly sought help from campus police, saying that she was being extorted by a man she had briefly dated. Both the campus detective, Kayla Dallof, and the officer assigned to her case, Deras, did little to investigate, an independent review later found. And, shortly after, McCluskey was shot to death by Melvin Rowland, who later died by suicide.

The independent review criticized Brophy’s department for its handling of McCluskey’s complaints. In one example, officers never checked or discovered that Rowland was on parole and made no attempts to contact him or his parole officer. Brophy had no policy requiring them to do so — which is standard in most departments, the investigative report said. And some of McCluskey’s allegations could have led to Rowland’s arrest for violations of his terms of release.

Among other issues, the reviewers also questioned why the chief didn’t require his officers to be trained to recognize the warning signs of interpersonal violence. The reviewers said it would have significantly helped them better understand and respond to McCluskey, who faced those risks but who was told that little could be done. She was not referred to a victim advocate.

Despite calls from McCluskey’s parents for Brophy’s termination, Watkins said she had full confidence in him. He received a letter in his file that largely congratulated him for his work in making subsequent adjustments.

Then, in July 2019 and at the age of 46, Brophy announced his decision to retire in the coming months. The university said he was not forced out.

He received a severance package with a full year of pay at his salary of $151,000, as well as benefits. And he was able to begin collecting a full retirement paid for by the state after 25 years in law enforcement. He was also thrown a $6,000 retirement party by the U.

Brophy said then that resigning would “open a new chapter for me.” He did not return a call from The Tribune for comment.

Claims from the former officer who showed off McCluskey’s photos

The filing focuses on Deras, the officer who showed off the photos of McCluskey, and the fallout after the university released a state report last year that confirmed his misconduct.

The U. has said it didn’t know about the improper display of the evidence until after Deras had already left the department. He quit in September 2019 and took a job with Logan police in northern Utah.

The school said it first learned about allegations from The Salt Lake Tribune shortly after that. And after the newspaper published a story in May 2020 about him showing off the photos to male co-workers, the school acknowledged shortcomings in its own efforts to look into the behavior and requested that the Utah Department of Public Safety further investigate.

In August, the state department finished its review, and the university released the findings. The report confirmed that Deras displayed the pictures to at least three male officers without a work-related reason in the days before McCluskey was killed.

State investigators said that one staffer recounted that Deras commented specifically about getting to “look at them whenever he wants.” The report said other officers chimed in, saying Deras was “lucky” to get to work on the case and that McCluskey was a “cute girl.”

Additionally, the report noted, Deras showed a sergeant one of the intimate photos of McCluskey while they were at the crime scene on the night she was fatally shot. The superior officer had said, “I wonder what she looked like,” and Deras shared that image — although he also had McCluskey’s driver’s license photo on his phone.

Jones, Deras’ attorney, has previously maintained that Deras did not show off the photos without a valid purpose or boast about them, and he has suggested at least one of the officers “misremembers” what happened.

After the DPS report was released, Logan police, where Deras was then working, fired him. And the U. fired the three officers who were shown the photos but didn’t alert their supervisors. (The third officer and the sergeant did not join the legal claim.)

The notice of claim challenges much of that response, including questioning the findings and accusing the U. of releasing the report — which it did not author — to point the blame at Deras and save its own public image.

Jones said the U. knew that the report was “neither complete, nor accurate and did not contain all relevant ... information provided to DPS” and chose to release it anyway. He also said the U. released just pieces of it to fit its “preferred narrative.”

The U. released the entire report, as it said it would do when it first asked DPS to step in, but did redact the names of participants who were assured anonymity when interviewed by the state. Deras had declined to answer questions from investigators.

The filing said the officers were not able to dispute the findings and that some suffered job losses.

Claims from the other officers and deputy chief

Jones said the two other officers on the claim, Sellick and Nelson, were told by DPS that they would be protected for speaking up and would not be held liable for incriminating themselves with any information they shared during the interview.

But that promise was broken, Jones said, when the U. fired them.

He said the officers, who both acknowledged that Deras shared the photos, were let go for “telling the truth and participating in the interview process.”

The filing also claims the U.’s police department updated its employee policy shortly before the report was released to remove protections for officers. “The University did not seek or receive consent from any officer to change these policies, did change them to the detriment of officers who relied on the prior policies, and used the changes to damage the officers in question,” the filing states.

Next, the notice of claim states the two officers were not given an opportunity to appeal their terminations or present information in their defense. The U. has said that they were and completed the appeal process; but the decision was made not to reinstate the officers.

Jones said the process was a “kangaroo court” that jumped over evidence and “ensured the actual facts would not be developed and that termination was a certainty.” He claims the officers were denied access to records that would exonerate them, deprived of their rights and had accusatory statements about their conduct published by the university.

After that, the filing doesn’t specify claims made by former Deputy Police Chief McLenon, who resigned from the U.’s department shortly before the full DPS report on the photos was publicly released. He was initially responsible for looking into concerns about Deras showing off the photos of McCluskey.

The new chief of the department, Rodney Chatman, had questioned McLenon’s “thoroughness” before ordering the DPS investigation. Chatman also placed McLenon on leave while that was being conducted. The deputy chief quit a few days later and did not participate in the state’s interviews.

Chatman, himself, has also since been put on administrative leave, starting Dec. 10. The Utah attorney general’s office is separately conducting an investigation into whether the chief was carrying a gun or badge before he was certified as an officer in Utah, which would be illegal.

That allegation appears in the new notice of claim, where Jones suggests the chief was unprepared for the office and should not have called for the new investigation into Deras. Chatman has said he feels like the claims against him are being used to force him out over being transparent and publicly releasing the DPS report about Deras showing the photos.

The new legal claim also comes shortly after the university settled a lawsuit filed by McCluskey’s parents for $13.5 million. That was given final approval by state lawmakers last month.

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